Seeking His Presence

Author: Robert Moynihan

Seeking His Presence by Robert Moynihan

"The greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council is this, that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously." ()

"The de-Christianization of the twentieth century is not only much more serious than anything that has previously beset Christians; it is something uniquely sinister." ()

The central fact of Christianity is Jesus Christ. Christians use the present tense--"is" Jesus Christ--not the past tense--"was" Jesus Christ-- because Christians believe Jesus "is": that he lives. Christians believe modern men and women, like those who lived and walked with Jesus on the dusty roads of Palestine 2,000 years ago, can him, can be , can really and truly him, can be, here and now, because Jesus is not an idea or a theory or an ideology, but . And where can this encounter occur? In many places, in the gathering of the "two or three" who believe in him, in the giving of a cup of water to someone who is thirsty, in hearing the words of Scripture which are replete with references to him, but preeminently in "the breaking of the bread"-- in the Eucharist. Christians have always believed that bread, consecrated, Jesus, that he is in the bread, and that this is the "great mystery" which is at the center of the Church's liturgical life, this "making present" of the Lord of History here and now. Now, if, as Charles Peguy suggested in 1907, the 20th century is marked above all by its "deChristianization," this "uniquely sinister" trial in the history of the Church, what does this mean about Christ's presence? It means Christ is somehow less present. He is in the councils of government, less present in the laws of legislatures, less present in literature and art, less present--and one would hesitate to say this were it not demonstrable that many Catholics no longer believe in Christ's presence in the consecrated host--in the Eucharist.

It is the absence of Christ which marks our time. And it is this absence which makes our age a chill and dark one, and the scene of unprecedented crimes. And this is not (it must be made clear) because of any desire or decision on Christ's part to abandon humanity, but because humanity has once again, as in the garden of Gethsemane, abandoned him. When polls show that no longer believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, we realize that, unlike on the road to Emmaus, his disciples in the breaking of the bread.

How did this occur, and how can it be remedied? That is the challenge facing the Church as it enters the Third Millennium of Christianity: to once again seek the Lord's presence, and to recognize him when he comes among us.

A World to Flee From, A World to Embrace

BOTH JOHN XXIII and Paul VI often spoke of "modernity" when speaking of the Second Vatican Council. They spoke of the need to "update" the Church to enable her to take a more active role in "the modern world." They were aware of the evils often associated with the term "modernism," but were equally aware of the benefits that came from advances in scientific and medical knowledge and the freedoms enjoyed by citizens of democratic countries. It was these beneficial by-products of the 20th century they had in mind when they called upon the Council to "modernize the Church."

Yet, for many Catholics--secure in their received faith, appalled by the dominant culture--it was folly to "open" the Church "to the world." While Pope John, Giovanni Battista Cardinal Montini (then Archbishop of Milan), and other liberal Fathers were calling for openness to modern ways, others, headed by Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, were associating contemporary culture with that deadly spiritual virus Pius X condemned as "modernism." Call it by any of its many names--modernism, secularism, atheism, rationalism, materialism or individualism--this way of thinking and being has almost always been seen as something for Christians to flee from, not embrace. From the beginning of this century to the present time, this cultural force has been described with frightening clarity as deadly to all revealed religions, particularly to Catholicism, and even to all individual rights and freedoms. Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyev (1853- 1900), for example, projected the 21st century as a time when Christianity would all but disappear in the face of a vapid spiritualism, a humanistic religion overseen by an anti-Christ. Robert Hugh Benson (1871-1914), son of an Archbishop of Canterbury and a convert to Catholicism, likewise foresaw a world where science and materialism would eliminate the Church and usher in "the end times." And French poet Charles Peguy (1873-1914) struck a note in 1907 that has been echoed over and over: "The de- Christianization of the 20th century is not only much more serious than anything that has previously beset Christians; it is something uniquely sinister."

Even a self-declared agnostic, French President Francois Mitterand, was moved to comment on the spiritual nihilism of present-day Western culture. Shortly before his death last month (a death long meditated on because of a slow growing cancer), the President wrote: "Never before has our relationship with death been so impoverished as in these times of spiritual aridity, when men are so eager to exist that they evade the mystery of death."

This culture that can no longer conceive of death as part of a mysterious passage to eternity has been powerfully and succinctly defined in John Paul II's startling phrase, "the culture of death."

Council conservatives, acutely aware of this sinister modern spirit, saw themselves not only as protectors of Church traditions, but also as realists. They considered liberals unreliable optimists. For these conservatives, modernization did not mean reform or renewal but capitulation to a frightening , what Christ refers to as "the world" which kills belief and saints-- which kills him and eliminates his presence.

When liberals cited ("The Church is always in need of reform") to justify their actions, conservatives would point out that the expression means spiritual renewal, not modern corruption.

John saw his irrepressible and inspiring optimism as the only way to respond effectively to the deChristianizing of the Western world. By not criticizing or condemning the world, but rather by preaching and witnessing love, he felt that the Church could best face this meretricious century. For John, "The Council is an act of faith in God, of obedience to His laws, of sincere effort to correspond with the plan of redemption according to which the Word has become flesh."

Paul VI's Experience

BOTH JOHN XXIII and Paul VI were convinced the Church was being relegated to the margins of contemporary life, where it could no longer have significant impact, and would quickly become less and less relevant. Neither ever wavered in their conviction that the Council was inspired by the Holy Spirit, and that the Church had to learn from the contemporary world and become more open, more democratic, more engaged with the world.

Yet Paul would become more and more conscious that some dangerous steps were being taken, that some "unCatholic" elements or something evil had entered the Church. Paul, in his prayerful devotions, said that he was most attracted to the first of the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary-- the Agony in the Garden. The last years of his pontificate were one extended agony as he tried to restore order to a Church that entered a period of unabated and continuing turmoil following the end of the Council.

John XXIII died a blessed death, extremely hopeful, extremely optimistic. To a nephew who came to see him on his deathbed he called out: "Look, you arrive here, and find me in bed! The doctors say I am suffering from a stomach malady. But let us hope that everything will turn out well, and that very soon I will again be able to devote myself to the Council and to the Church."

In five days he would be dead. Up until he breathed his last breath he was still speaking of the Council, longing optimistically to return to it: "I have opened the smallness of my soul to the greatness of this inspiration. Will he allow me to finish it? Should he do so, may he be blessed. And if he does not allow me to finish it?... I will watch its joyful conclusion from heaven, where I hope, rather, where I am certain the Divine Mercy will draw me."

John XXIII died June 3, 1963, and after a difficult consistory, Paul VI was chosen to succeed him. John's unrealized dream for Christianizing a deChristianized world became Paul's dream, then his burden, then his cross.

After four years of exhausting study, debate, and compromise, all the documents of the Council were accepted with nearly unanimous votes. When the Council ended on December 8, 1965, the great majority of the Fathers were persuaded that a blueprint had been prepared for renewing the Church and evangelizing the world.

Renewing is a feeble word for describing what has happened to Catholicism in the last 30 years. Statistics do not come close to telling the whole story, but they may serve as shorthand for outlining this brief period in the Church's long history.

Between 1965 and the present time, especially between 1965 and 1985, tens of thousands of priests and religious left their orders, convents, and rectories. About half the priests were laicized, the rest just walked away, some without leaving any forwarding address. Many of those who left began careers in criticizing and attacking upon the doctrines, policies and practices of Catholicism.

During the same period there was a precipitous decline in vocations and an exodus of laity, which may involve millions. Among those who remained in the Church, attendance has fallen steadily. Figures in a recent US survey show church-going down from 75% in 1965 to as low as 25% in 1995.

Citing such negative statistics can be misleading, however. Many claim that some of these estimates are wrong, that some of the laity who left may have already returned, and that there has been a qualitative growth that no statistics can ever measure. New religious movements and Lay Institutes are revitalizing the Church and may--in the next 30 years--truly renew the Church.

This is devoutly to be wished. But surveys on what today's Catholics actually believe (again only statistical evidence) are dismal. Average Catholics apparently have little knowledge or interest in what the Church's teachings are on subjects such as abortion, penance, or Mary. And concerning the Eucharist, a majority of those queried stated that they believed in the Eucharist only as a symbol of Christ.

Some might ask, is it possible that Pope John called the Council because he had some inner intuition, some mystical insight in 1959 that the Church was crumbling from the inside out? That he called the Council to make changes to head off a disaster?

Few conservatives saw any immediate need for a Council. Pius XII had spoken of a Council, but thought it would require years to prepare, and long years to carry it out. Cardinal Giuseppe Siri, a man whom many had expected to be Pius XII's successor, said the Church was never more vigorous and respected than at the end of Pius XII's pontificate. For him the Council brought chaos to the Church and John's powerful vision was foolhardy.

Was the Council really the cause of the discord that has descended on the Church, or would an even greater confusion have afflicted Catholicism if the Council had not been called? The Catholic Church is not the only religious body to have experienced difficulties in recent years, nor even the only government or institution. One suspects that strife would have occurred even without the Council.

Paul and Liturgy

THE FIRST TIME Giovanni Battista Montini (the future Paul VI) was accused by of being a dangerous liberal was in 1933 when he recommended an innovative liturgy to a group of college students for Lent. His intentions were noble. He was looking for a way to attract students. The 36-year-old monsignor suggested New Testament readings above all others, with concentration on personal prayer, rather than conventionally pious candles and flowers, like "pious old ladies." He advised saying the Our Father in public and the Rosary in private.

These suggestions cost him his student chaplaincy, a burden he had assumed in addition to secretarial duties to the Pope. Nor did his proposed reforms arouse any enthusiasm from his boss, Pius XII. Cardinal Ottaviani, however, found nothing to get excited about; he called the episode "much ado about nothing."

Paul's basic convictions about liturgical reform can be briefly set down: it should be devout and simple, and ordinary people should be able to understand it. This principle of meaningfulness moved him to endorse the vernacular, although he wanted to retain Latin in the canon of the Mass. Left to his own preferences, it seems quite certain that he would have continued to say Mass in Latin.

On October 22, 1962, the first day of debates on the Constitution on the Liturgy, the heavy hitters were sent up to bat. Joseph Cardinal Frings, leader of the European Alliance, led off with a series of demands for changes in the proposed agenda. Then came Bishop Franz Zauner of Austria, a liturgist with incredibly wide support. He asked that national bishops' conferences make the decision whether a vernacular language was to be used. Rome, of course, could still exercise veto power.

Cardinal Montini, Archbishop Milan and future Pope, also spoke. It has been assumed by most that he had cleared his statement with Pope John. They worked closely at every stage. Ever the centrist, Paul did not side with Zauner and Frings, but sought a middle course. He praised the Curia- prepared outline for its pastoral qualities. He noted that the plan before the Fathers was balanced. It did not allow alterations in ageless rites, which had been derived from both human and divine sources, for insubstantial and subjective reasons. A great merit of the plan was that it would protect the Church's most ancient heritage.

Montini, however, did not rule out all changes. Without specifying, he was clearly leaving room for his principles of simplicity and intelligibility to have some sway. He endorsed the reduction of ceremonies "to more simple forms." He cautioned against harming the ancient liturgy's symbolic power, but elevated brevity to a principle alongside simplicity, urging that any unnecessary repetitions be cut to bring ceremonies more in accord with the sensibilities of the age. He wanted a liturgy that was "more understandable and more useful to men of our day."

As for Latin, he would retain it in the Roman Catholic Church "in those parts of the rite which are sacramental and, in the true sense of the word, priestly." For other parts of the Mass, especially the readings from Scripture, he advocated the removal of any obstacles to clear understanding.

A scholar himself, Montini put in a plug for a scholarly approach to renewal, recommending that the implementation committee make clear that changes did not constitute a break with past Catholic worship. Liturgical scholars, he said, should make "more evident" the liturgical inheritance from the past.

Montini summed up his position admirably with a metaphor. He described the liturgy as a garment which adorned the divine mysteries. Provided changes are "carried out prudently and wisely," it is right to make them. The garment could be reworked so long as the divine essence remained inviolate. Critics of reform today say that is precisely what has not happened. Instead, the divine essence--the Eucharist--has suffered at the hands of the reform.

The words of the Cardinal from Milan were not the most powerful of that day, but they would assume increasing importance one year later, when he became Pope. Many of his phrases would be invoked in the complicated and intensely debated procedures that would lead to changes, many of his words would be recalled by those who were actually working to circumvent his moderate approach and bring about radical changes.

The Blind Cardinal

ONE OF THE MOST passionate speeches and blatantly partisan moments of the Council occurred just eight days after Montini spoke. On October 30, 1962, during further debate on liturgy, Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, prefect of the Holy Office and president of the Council's Theological Commission, who had just observed his 72 birthday the previous day, rose to express shock at the many changes being sought in the Mass.

Nearly blind, he could not read an intervention, so he spoke in perfect Latin. He asked if the speakers were planning a revolution instead of a reform. "Are we seeking to shock people, or perhaps cause scandal among Christian people, by introducing changes in so venerable a rite, a rite hallowed by so many centuries of use?" Then in an obvious rebuke to Montini's comparison of the liturgy to a garment, he went on: "The rite of Holy Mass should not be treated as if it were a piece of cloth to be refashioned according to the whim of each generation."

Not having a written text, it was difficult for the Cardinal to know if he was keeping within the Council's time limit for statements. Caught up in his passionate indignation, Ottaviani had not heard the bell warning him that his time was almost up. He tried several times to go on; no sound came from the microphone. Cardinal Bernard Alfrink had ordered the microphone switched off. Ottaviani could not see signals being made to him. He tapped the microphone; it was dead. Then he realized. He had been made an example of, he had been humiliated. Bishops began laughing. Guiding himself by touch, the humiliated, half- blind Cardinal stumbled back to his seat. In the nave of St. Peter's there was clapping. The liturgical reformers had shown their power. They would show it many more times in the next decade.

Implementation: Annibale Bugnini

FATHER ANNIBALE Bugnini, C.M., wore two hats: he was a liturgy expert and he was the quintessential committee insider, the perennial chairman. Editor of an important liturgy journal, , he was in touch with many of the leading liturgists around the world, and knew all the important people in and around the Vatican. Always orderly, always prepared, always pushing toward completion, he was the perennial secretary, the "clerk of the works" of Vatican liturgical projects from 1948 until suddenly, in July 1975, he was "bumped upstairs" and out of Rome to become Nuncio in Iran. His abrupt departure seemed to most a sign that he was in disgrace. What had happened?

Bugnini's skill at steering between the rocks in the stormy seas of post-Vatican II Rome, had obviously deserted him. His detractors would say his scheming and secret loyalties had finally caught up with him. There was a public accusation that he was "a secret member" of the powerful Masonic Brotherhood in Rome. The unproved allegation was generally dismissed in a city where unproved allegations are not uncommon. But his dismissal was real. His friend and collaborator, Gottardo Pasqualletti, wrote: "Archbishop Bugnini retired on tiptoe, as it were, to his modest rooms at San Silvestro al Quirinale. His service to the liturgy came to a sudden and dramatic end, without any plausible explanation being given to him. Months of utter silence followed during which no one but a few faithful friends caught so much as a glimpse of him."

The most acceptable general explanation seems to be that Paul had grown progressively unhappy with the course liturgical reform had followed under Bugnini's management. First to go was liberal reformer Cardinal Giacomo Lercaro, in 1968, who had been in charge of Bugnini. Pope Paul's biographer, Peter Hebblethwaite, names Bugnini as "the architect of the whole process of liturgical reform." Paul had evidently come to the same conclusion, and being a gracious father, simply promoted him and packed him off to one of the Church's least dynamic posts--Teheran. Ironically one of Rome's most active reformers arrived just in time to observe one of Islam's most vehement "reformers" in full stride--the Ayatollah Khomenei.

Why did Paul appoint Lercaro and Bugnini, men more extreme than himself, to put the reforms into effect? Because he was determined that the views of all should be represented. Likewise he was determined not to exercise his veto power over the implementors. He met with Bugnini over and over, raising questions and making suggestions. Bugnini would go back to his experts and they would raise objections. Back to Paul Bugnini would go. There were few options for the egalitarian, scholarly Paul. Either he would have to say, No!--which he did not want to do. Or he would have to make further suggestions, or yield completely. He did all three. Paul did not encourage the wholesale shift, but he bowed before it. He would write to Julien Green, the French writer, that he too grieved at the loss of Latin. He tried to assuage Green's pain by quoting St. Augustine: "I prefer to speak ungrammatically and be understood by the people, rather than appear learned and not be understood." He wrote in much the same vein to Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, lamenting the disappearance of Latin, but insisting that the great tradition received from the past had been retained intact: "Not only have we maintained everything of the past but we have rediscovered the most ancient and primitive tradition, the one closest to the origins."

Perhaps the state of Paul's mind during his long and wearing negotiations with Bugnini's committee is best conveyed in a handwritten note he wrote to Cardinal Benno Gut, prefect for Divine Worship, in 1969 approving the new lectionary: "In the very limited time allowed me, I have not been able to get a complete and detailed grasp of this new and extensive But because of the confidence I have in the skilled and devout individuals who spent a long time compiling it, and because of the trust I owe to the Congregation for Divine Worship, which has examined and corrected it with such expert care, I gladly approve it in the name of the Lord."

(to be continued) *************************************************

The Elimination of Latin

The Council's was adopted by a vote of 2,147 to 4 on November 18, 1963. Regarding Latin it read:

Par. 36.

When Paul promulgated the Constitution he said: "No attempt should be made to insert into the official prayer of the Church private changes..." The admonition went unheeded. Informal word went out that vernacular languages had been approved. In 1964, especially in northern Europe, priests began saying Mass in their native languages. There must have been coordination of these "spontaneous" efforts: the same changes were made in different countries (the "Lavabo" (Psalm 42) and "the Last Gospel" (the Prologue of John) everywhere disappeared).

Bugnini's Concilium immediately took the Constitution's grant (article 54) of "a suitable place" to vernacular languages as a mandate for gradually eliminating Latin. While arguing that the Council's "wording was vague," and that the movement to eliminate Latin was "in accord with the spirit of the Council," Bugnini, nevertheless, admitted that he and his associates had given the Constitution "a broad interpretation." They had to, he felt, because of "pastoral reasons." That phrase was a reference to the widespread use of the vernacular languages without Vatican permission. Latin lasted only two years under these Pressures.

This article was taken from the February 1996 issue of "Inside the Vatican."

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