It has been said, although I don’t know where the original quote comes from, that it takes a century for the changes of a Church Council to be full accepted by the Church. A good number of folks believe that this formula doesn’t apply to the Second Vatican Council because of today’s instant availability of the documents and the 24-hour news cycle. Clergy, religious and layperson alike are drenched in this information, with literally thousands of commentaries on it, scholarly, not-so-scholarly (like this one), Vatican watchers reporting whether the Holy Father is upstairs or downstairs in the papal residence, etc. Traditionalists calling for a return to a pre-Vatican II era church a “smaller, more pure” church, and progressives calling for a Third Vatican Council to expand on the Second, and a sea change in the governance of a billion plus member global community.
Based on all of this, 50 years out, I would say that we are precisely on schedule when it comes to general Church acceptance of the Second Vatican Council. Although we are constantly bombarded by all of this information, there still needs to be reflection, discussion, compromise, and concession on all parts, because we are a Church of all peoples. When the Council first concluded there was a great deal of confusion. The greater church swung wildly to the left for the first couple of decades after the council, along with the rest of society. The sisters traded in their habits for street clothes, Humanae Vitae was penned by Paul VI and largely ignored, men stopped heading to seminary in droves, women stopped heading to convents in droves, the first predominantly married group of Latin rite clergy in centuries were ordained as the permanent diaconate flourished, guitars and folk groups replaced organs and choirs at many Masses, and the laity was up in arms when the abuse scandals hit. Afterward there was a pendulum swing to the right; the Latin Mass took on new life, traditional contemplative religious orders and seminaries began flourishing while the apostolic orders continued to gray, and proud emphasis on “traditional values” became the watchword of the majority of Catholic press. Now with the crackdown on the American sisters, the pendulum may be swinging back yet again, but perhaps with not as much force.
What does this mean for us as Church?
In my eyes, it means we still have a ways to go. We are all still talking past each other to get our voices heard…and all the voices still need to be heard. The Vatican/hierarchy of bishops need to realize that this is far more educated Body of Christ than decades and centuries past; the old formula of “pay-pray-obey” simply is not going to work any longer. They need to give ear to the priests, sisters, brothers, and laypeople in the trenches who deal daily with the poorest of the poor, the marginalized, the needy, the forgotten, and the vast majority of the Body of Christ. At the same time, the critics of the hierarchy need to give ear to and respect the bishops as the holders of apostolic succession and not dissent simply for the sake of dissension. There is wisdom and knowledge to harvest from these men of God…and many ARE true men of God.
Come Holy Spirit as we near Pentecost. Give us eyes to see and ears to listen. Help us all leave our pride at the door. We…the Pope and his bishops, the priests, the deacons, the religious, and the laypeople in and out of the pews…WE are Church, Your Body of Christ. Help us welcome each other was we welcome Your fire into our hearts.
Daily Mass Readings