Friday, January 27, 2006

Part III: The Spirit of Vatican II

Ah, Vatican II. Just the mere mention of the name of this ecumenical council sends shivers down the spine of the most ardent traditionalists, and shouts of joy among the crowds who endeavor to remake the church under the guise of “the spirit of Vatican II.” “Remember Vatican II!” is shouted more often than “Remember the Alamo!” is in the Texas statehouse. Although I will quote from its documents, it really isn’t up to me to say what Vatican II did or didn’t mean. Not my job. Sure, I have my opinions, but the last time I checked they haven’t included me as part of the Magisterium, so take my incoherent ramblings for what you will.

Vatican II released 16 documents, and among those was Dei Verbum, the Constitution on Divine Revelation. This discussed Scripture in some detail- the origin, the transmission, the means of arriving at an authentic interpretation. The last chapter covered Sacred Scripture in the life of the church.

“The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord, since, especially in the sacred liturgy, she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life from the table both of God's word and of Christ's body. She has always maintained them, and continues to do so, together with sacred tradition, as the supreme rule of faith, since, as inspired by God and committed once and for all to writing, they impart the word of God Himself without change, and make the voice of the Holy Spiritresound in the words of the prophets and Apostles. Therefore, like the Christian religion itself, all the preaching of the Church must be nourished and regulated by Sacred Scripture. For in the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them; and the force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her sons, the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life. Consequently these words are perfectly applicable to Sacred Scripture: ‘For the word of God is living and active’ (Heb. 4:12) and ‘it has power to build you up and give you your heritage among all those who are sanctified’ (Acts 20:32; see 1 Thes. 2:13).

Easy access to Sacred Scripture should be provided for all the Christian faithful. That is why the Church from the very beginning accepted as her own that very ancient Greek translation; of the Old Testament which is called the septuagint; and she has always given a place of honor to other Eastern translations and Latin ones especially the Latin translation known as the vulgate. But since the word of God should be accessible at all times, the Church by her authority and with maternal concern sees to it that suitable and correct translations are made into different languages, especially from the original texts of the sacred books. And should the opportunity arise and the Church authorities approve, if these translations are produced in cooperation with the separated brethren as well, all Christians will be able to use them.” (Dei Verbum, par. 21-22, emphasis mine)

“Therefore, all the clergy must hold fast to the Sacred Scriptures through diligent sacred reading and careful study, especially the priests of Christ and others, such as deacons and catechists who are legitimately active in the ministry of the word. This is to be done so that none of them will become ‘an empty preacher of the word of God outwardly, who is not a listener to it inwardly’ since they must share the abundant wealth of the divine word with the faithful committed to them, especially in the sacred liturgy. The sacred synod also earnestly and especially urges all the Christian faithful, especially Religious, to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the ‘excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ’ (Phil. 3:8). ‘For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.’ Therefore, they should gladly put themselves in touch with the sacred text itself, whether it be through the liturgy, rich in the divine word, or through devotional reading, or through instructions suitable for the purpose and other aids which, in our time, with approval and active support of the shepherds of the Church, are commendably spread everywhere. And let them remember that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together; for ‘we speak to Him when we pray; we hear Him when we read the divine saying.’”(DV, par. 25, emphasis mine)

“For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” And therein lies my whole point. I read materials on Catholic apologetics websites and forums all the time where the writer takes great pride in not believing like a Protestant. Sorry, not good enough. Let’s say that I raise my son to never do anything bad. If I succeed, I’ve done good, but it’s only half the job. I also need to raise him to do good. In the same way, if my whole purpose as a Catholic is to avoid everything that isn’t Catholic, then I’ve missed the point. I also need to participate in the riches of Catholicism. And one of those riches, as I’ve made very plain, is Sacred Scripture. Let’s ditch the Protestant-phobia, follow the consistent example of the Popes, and dive right into the Book. Listen attentively at Mass, certainly; but don’t let that be the only time the words of the Bible enter your consciousness. Soak in the Bible like I marinate my chicken in Zesty Italian dressing before I cook it. Some will say, “Well, why should I study the menu (the Bible) when I can eat the meal (the Eucharist)?” My response to that is, if you study the menu you can better appreciate what you are being served.

To finish, I would like to quote Pope Benedict XVI, when he was known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. In the writings and speeches of Pope Benedict XVI I see a man who is well-versed in the words of Scripture. This is what he has to say to the “common man”, the non-scholar, who may feel like the Bible is best left to the experts:

“Every Catholic must have the courage to believe that his faith (in communion with that of the Church) surpasses every "new magisterium" of the experts, of the intellectuals. Their hypotheses can be helpful in providing a better understanding of the genesis of the biblical books, but it is a prejudice of evolutionistic provenance if it is asserted that the text is understandable only if its origin and development are studied. The rule of faith, yesterday as today, is not based on the discoveries (be they true or hypothetical) of biblical sources and layers but on the Bible just as it is, as it has been read in the Church since the time of the Fathers until now. It is precisely the fidelity to this reading of the Bible that has given us the saints, who were often uneducated and, at any rate, frequently knew nothing about exegetical contexts. Yet they were the ones who understood it best.” ---Pope Benedict XVI (as Cardinal Ratzinger), The Ratzinger Report, pg. 76.


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