Vatican II at 40

At a Glance
Leon J. Suprenant, Jr.

From the sep/oct 2002 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

Pope John Paul II has called the Second Vatican Council (1962- 65) the interpretive key to understanding his pontificate. For many of us, particularly my generation, Vatican II also is the key for understanding our own pilgrimage of faith. Pope John XXIII called the 21st ecumenical council only months before I was born, and the Council ended the year I entered first grade at St. Elizabeth’s school.

My first encounter with Vatican II was an unforgettable lesson in first grade, when the teacher insisted over and over again that Vatican II (whatever that was) taught that the “Church” is not the building across the street, but the “people.” While there’s an important theological point there, at the time I still thought the building across the street looked more like a “church” than my classmates did.

In third grade, as religious garb changed “because of Vatican II,” I was mesmerized by the fact that I could now see Sr. Ellen’s legs and hair. Later that year, my mom explained to me that “because of Vatican II” many priests and religious were leaving their communities, including my beloved piano teacher.

Then in fifth grade, I gave up six months’ worth of recess-a real sacrifice; I lived for kickball-to be trained as an altar boy. Just as my confreres and I were considered ready for this august service, we were told that the Mass was changing “because of Vatican II,” and so we needed to be retrained. Meanwhile, our Church’s sanctuary was a construction zone the next several months, as the altar was moved forward and burnt orange carpeting was installed. I didn’t know what to think of this, though the carpet, irrespective of its aesthetic merit, was decidedly easier to kneel on.

In the eighth grade, I remember the teacher writing the word “ecumenism” on the blackboard. I can’t recall whether she said anything that was contrary to the faith. However, I do know that the effect of the class on me and on my classmates was that “because of Vatican II” it didn’t really matter whether one was Catholic. After all, “they will know we are Christians by our love.” I blithely continued to hone my collage skills and routinely brought home A’s in religion.

During my high school and college years, virtually all my peers left the Church, as did I. I remember well my ninth grade religion class in which we studied the Bible. We repeatedly were told about what we don’t believe anymore “because of Vatican II.” One got the impression that Vatican II painstakingly went through the Bible and identified for us all the myths, fables, and inaccuracies found in God’s inspired Word. In subsequent years, as I
feebly groped for some spiritual guidance, I’d pick up a Catholic Bible or a Catholic biblical commentary and, rather than be nourished and buoyed in my faith, I was confronted with agnostic doublespeak.

The 80s Show

By the singular, undeserved grace of God, I accepted Jesus Christ back into my life as I completed law school in 1984. For me, this necessarily entailed walking back into the Church that so confused me “because of Vatican II.” Here’s what I found. Some things were definitely out. Vatican II seemingly had done away with Latin, kneeling, Marian devotion, Mass as a sacrifice, St. Christopher, limbo, guardian angels, and mortal sin, to name but a few. Purgatory and indulgences headed the list of embarrassing teachings that, in the “spirit of Vatican II,” would disappear in the 21st century, as would the male-only ordained priesthood.

Other things definitely were in, including some good things, such as a heightened sensitivity to social justice concerns. Also in, however, were “clown Masses,” liturgical experimentation, and “responsible” dissent. Gregorian chant had given way to George Harrison (“My Sweet Lord”) and Led Zeppelin (“Stairway to Heaven”). Violations of the Sixth Commandment not only were no longer “grave matter,” but not even sins. The propensity to sin (traditionally called “concupiscence”) was no longer a disorder but a gift to be celebrated.

Where Was I?

Had I made a mistake in recommitting myself to Christ and His Church, thus branding myself as a “religious fanatic” among my secular peers? No, and in fact I deeply desired that they would come back with me. My “reversion” to Catholicism seemed irrevocable. Where else would I go? If I tested other waters or sowed more wild oats, could I presume that before I die I would be given the grace of another chance? So with prayer and trepidation I walked further into the antechamber of the Church, making her my true home.

As I got to know the other residents, I noted two unmistakable and often diametrically opposed approaches to Vatican II and the Church in general. I realize I’m painting with a broad brush, but my experience repeatedly verified this observation.

On the one hand, there were those who were fully on board with what they called “Vatican II.” The Council opened the door to whatever doctrinal change, liturgical innovation, or sexual license they deemed desirable, irrespective of what the “Vatican” might say. One had to be very careful in proposing what the actual Church teaching or practice might be around them, lest you be diagnosed as not merely “conservative,” but rigid, intolerant, and-here it comes- preconciliar. I saw the necessity of being with the Church and accepting “Vatican II” as not only an authentic Church council, but truly as a gift to the Church. Yet, this group seemed to be co-opting and distorting the so-called “spirit of Vatican II.”

On the other side of the aisle, I met many people who were profoundly disturbed by all the unsavory things that had happened in the Church over the past 20 years “because of Vatican II.” This led them to an intense distrust of any change in the Church, such that one had to be careful in cooperating with the local Church lest one be considered by them as poisoned by the “modernism” that had corrupted the Church in America. It was decidedly unsafe to come out of the bunker.

I learned how to negotiate my way through the household of God by avoiding the excesses and errors of those two approaches while also avoiding the utter indifference of Mr. and Mrs. Sixpack. But, as someone who wanted to serve this Church faithfully, I yearned for more guidance.

I eventually did receive such guidance through a class on Vatican II that I took in seminary. The teacher, Fr. Tim Gallagher, O.M.V., stressed two things: (a) know what Vatican II actually teaches, and (b) “think with the Church.” I finally discovered through this class the real Vatican II. I will be forever grateful for the lessons I learned from Fr. Tim, and I believe they are even more applicable today than ever. Indeed, as Pope John Paul II recently wrote:

“With the passing of the years, the Vatican Council’s documents have lost nothing of their value or brilliance. They need to be read correctly, to be widely known and taken to heart as important and normative texts of the Magisterium, within the Church’s tradition.”

Back to the Source

In Fr. Tim’s class I actually read all 16 Vatican II documents, and I have since reread all of them several times. My hope is that this issue, devoted to the 40th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II, will inspire all of us to further drink in the life-giving teaching of Vatican II. And of course the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a remarkable and, to date, underappreciated compendium of Vatican II’s teaching. The beauty of the Catechism
is that it places Vatican II’s teaching in its proper context-within the entirety of the Church’s rich tradition.

“Thinking with the Church” sounds like an intellectual exercise, but it’s much deeper than that. In fact, it involves implementing our intellectual acceptance of Christ and His Church by living the Church’s life- liturgically, morally, and spiritually (which, incidentally, is the progression of the Catechism).

I must add my own gratitude to Lyman Stebbins and to the CUF apostolate-particularly our members in the 60s, 70s, and 80s who saw things rightly and were faithful sons and daughters of the Church during an era of unprecedented ecclesial upheaval in our country. They loved the Church as a mother, and they profoundly embraced Vatican II’s teaching that the call to holiness is at once universal and personal.

My first grade teacher was right. As we are united in Christ, we are truly part of the Church, the Family of God. May our own renewed commitment to serve Christ and His Church in holiness be, in the long run, the lasting legacy of Vatican II.

From Our Founder

[CUF’s] third purpose is to further the all-important renewal which the documents of the recent Council call for and which Pope Paul has described as an inner, personal, moral renewal. This purpose is, of course, the first in importance, and is a pre-requisite for the others. It means that we exist in order to respond publicly and together to what Vatican II called the universal vocation to holiness.

H. Lyman Stebbins
October 20, 1969

Associated PDF File:
This article is available as a PDF download

You may need to obtain a free copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader to use this
PDF file.

Restoration of Unity: The Church’s Irrevocable Commitment to Ecumenism

Fr. Ray Ryland
From the sep/oct 2002 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

The problem of Christian disunity was clearly stated by Vatican II at the beginning of its Decree on Ecumenism: “Christ the Lord founded one Church and one Church only. However, many Christian communions present themselves to men as the true inheritors of Jesus Christ; all indeed profess to be followers of the Lord but they differ in mind and go their different ways, as if Christ himself were divided” (no. 1).

Then the Council pointed to the tragic effects of disunity: “Certainly, such division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages that most holy cause, the preaching of the Gospel to every creature.” Hence the urgency of ecumenism (from the Greek word oikoumene, meaning “universal”), the term given to activities designed to increase unity among the various Christian traditions.

In the first papal encyclical ever devoted entirely to the subject of ecumenism (That They May Be One), Pope John Paul II wrote, “At the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church committed herself irrevocably to following the path of the ecumenical venture . . .” (no. 3, original emphasis). Two of the four stated purposes of the Council focus on unity: unity of Christians and unity of mankind ( Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, no. 1). The opening sentence of the Decree on Ecumenism strongly emphasizes this fact: “The
restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of Vatican II (no. 1).”

Two other documents of Vatican II bear on the subject of ecumenism. The Council’s basic document, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church ( Lumen Gentium), sets forth the nature of the Church, which has to be the starting point of all ecumenical discussions. This is the first systematic exposition of ecclesiology an ecumenical council has ever made. The document also discusses the relation of the Catholic Church to other Christians, to the Jews, to the Moslems, to those who seek the unknown God, and even to those who have no explicit knowledge of God.

In its Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches, the Council turned its attention also to the separated Eastern Orthodox Churches. Under certain conditions it extended to their members the privilege of receiving the Sacraments of Penance, the Eucharist, and the Anointing of the Sick in Catholic churches, and to Catholics the privilege of receiving these same sacraments from Eastern Orthodox priests.

The goal of the Protestant ecumenical movement, which has been carried on for well over a century, has been to devise schemes for reunification of the many thousands of separated denominations. The Catholic approach to ecumenism is quite different. Unity, says the Church, is not something to be achieved but to be restored. The “unity of the one and only Church” was bestowed by Christ when He created her. “This unity, we believe, subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose . . .” (Decree on Ecumenism, no. 4). Many Christians have separated themselves from that unity, but the Church herself is not divided.

Jesus Christ established His Church by “entrusting the apostles with their mission as He Himself had been sent by the Father. . . .” Their successors, the bishops, are to be the shepherds of His Church to the end of the world. To unify all His people Christ “put Peter at the head of the other apostles, and in him He set up a lasting and visible source and foundation of the unity both of faith and of communion” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, no. 18). As successor of Peter, the Roman Pontiff “is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful” (ibid., no. 23). This, says the Decree on Ecumenism, sums up “the sacred mystery of the unity of the Church” (no. 2).

For Catholics, therefore, the goal of ecumenism is to reconcile all separated Christians into the divinely appointed unity of the Church, centered on the successors of St. Peter. The Decree on Ecumenism expresses the hope that as various ecumenical activities are carried on, all Christians can be gathered “into the unity of the one and only Church, which Christ bestowed on His Church from the beginning” (no. 4). Again, at the very end of the decree, the Council sums up the “holy objective” of ecumenism: “the reconciliation of all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ . . .” ( ibid., no. 24). In other words, the road to Christian unity does not have to be discovered. The road is there, waiting to be traveled.

Vatican II spoke strongly of the ecumenical responsibilities of Catholics. “The concern for restoring unity involves the whole Church, faithful and clergy alike. It extends to everyone, according to the talent of each” (ibid., no. 5). In the preceding section of the decree we read, “The sacred Council exhorts all the Catholic faithful to . . . take an active and intelligent part in the work of ecumenism.”

The “primary duty” of Catholics in ecumenism “is to make a careful and honest appraisal of whatever needs to be renewed and done in the Catholic household itself . . .” (ibid., no. 4). And for what purpose? So that the life of the Church “may bear witness more clearly and faithfully to the teachings and institutions which have been handed down from Christ through the apostles.” When Catholics do not live the faith as they should, “the radiance of the Church’s face shines less brightly in the eyes of our separated brethren and of the world at large, and the growth of God’s kingdom is retarded” ( ibid.). Pope John Paul II reminds us that when Vatican II spoke of practicing ecumenism, it emphasized “above all the need for interior conversion” (That They May Be One, no. 15).

Catholics must recognize and rejoice in the many elements of Christian truth we share with our separated brothers and sisters. In breaking away from the Catholic Church, either directly or indirectly, every single denomination takes with it some of the Church’s treasury of truth, without, of course, depriving the Church of those elements. The Decree on Ecumenism (nos. 4, 21-23) lists many things we have in common with non-Catholic Christians. “All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to him, belong by right to the one Church of Christ” (ibid., no. 3). The decree does not say this, but the lesson from history is clear: None of those elements of truth and sanctification is certain to be preserved anywhere except within the Catholic Church.

Most important is our common Baptism in the name of the Blessed Trinity. Baptism creates a “sacramental bond of unity existing among all who through it are reborn.” But the Council went on to point out that Baptism is only the beginning of the process of “acquiring fullness of life in Christ.” Baptism finds its fulfillment in “a complete profession of [the Catholic] faith, a complete incorporation into the system of salvation such as Christ Himself willed it to be, and finally, toward a complete integration into eucharistic communion” (ibid., no. 22).

Notice the recurring adjective “complete” in the previous sentence. Early in the decree, the Council declared that “it is through Christ’s Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help toward salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained” (no. 3).

Catholics must pray for their separated brothers and sisters. Combined with deepening conversion, prayer for the unity of Christians is “the soul of the whole ecumenical movement, and merits the name, ‘spiritual ecumenism’” (ibid., no. 7). We must not only pray for those separated from Christ’s one true Church; we must also take the initiative in reaching out to them. Why? If indeed the Catholic Church has the fullness of Christ’s truth, then upon her lies the greater responsibility for reaching out to those who are separated from her and from the fullness of the truth. “Everyone to whom much is given, of him will much be required” (Lk. 12:48).

Human sin alone-the sin of Catholics and of those separated from the Church-has created the divisions among Christ’s people. Human strength alone, however determined and sincere, can never heal those divisions. At the end of the Decree on Ecumenism (no. 24), Vatican II spoke its last word on the fulfillment of Christ’s will that all His people should be one. All of us must work in any way we can to reconcile separated Christians to the one true Church. But the Church, said the Council, “places its hope entirely in the prayer of Christ for the Church, in the love of the Father for us, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Fr. Ryland is the spiritual advisor of Catholics United for the Faith.

Associated PDF File:
This article is available as a PDF download

You may need to obtain a free copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader to use this
PDF file.

Crowned with 12 Stars

Joseph Almeida
From the Sep/Oct 2002 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

This series explores the collected Marian writings of St. Lawrence of Brindisi, Doctor of the Church. Translating these writings into English for the first time is Joseph Almeida, associate professor of classics at Franciscan University of Steubenville. This is the fifth installment.

In continuing his series of sermons on St. John’s vision of the woman clothed with the sun, St. Lawrence considers in the fifth of his seven sermons the meaning of the lady’s crown of 12 stars. His reflections amount to nothing less than a commentary on the great glorious mystery of the Rosary, the coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary as queen of heaven and earth. In the following excerpts, one begins to see most clearly in St. Lawrence’s Marian writings a unity between speculative theology and tender devotion to the Mother of God. Indeed, the foundation of his Marian scholarship is a realization of the ineffable dignity of the divine motherhood and a filial love for the Blessed Mother herself.[1]

With scholarly precision, summarizing the work of his past sermons and developing the present line of inquiry, St. Lawrence announces the coronation as his current topic:

“We saw this heavenly woman, who was a great miracle while in this world, clothed with the sun and placed above the moon in heaven. Now we must probe the meaning of the coronation and adornment with the diadem of stars. On her head, St. John says, was a crown of twelve stars.”

St. Lawrence first reviews the kinds of crowns known from political life, such as the triumphal crown of the Roman consul. Next he reviews the kinds of crowns found in the pages of Scripture, such as the crown of glory (cf. Ps. 8:5), the crown of justice (cf. 2 Tim. 4:8), and even Christ’s crown of thorns (cf. Mt. 27:29). But he finds nothing similar to the unique diadem of the lady of Revelation. Here St. Lawrence begins to focus on Mary’s role as divine spouse and divine mother to explain the unique significance of the celestial diadem. Thus he says:

“However, save in this text of Revelation, we discover no crown of stars anywhere else. What, therefore, does this crown signify? First, it signifies that the most glorious queen of heaven, the true spouse of God, was crowned in eternity. All holy souls are, as spouses of Christ, crowned in heaven. However, just as among the 70 wives of Solomon one was still preeminent above all the others, namely the daughter of Pharaoh (cf. 1 Kings 3:1), for whom he built a most magnificent house, so Mary is the queen of queens. Thus we read: ‘There are 60 queens and eight concubines [but] my perfect one is only one’ (Song 6:8-9). Mary herself, therefore, is the unique queen of heaven just as the one true God is her spouse and the one true Christ her son.”

For St. Lawrence this coronation of Mary indicates that the Almighty Himself freely conferred upon the Blessed Virgin the power and authority to rule the entirety of heaven and earth. He derives this conclusion from the significance of the stars in the diadem:

“Why, however, was the crown of this most high queen of heaven constructed of 12 stars? The sun also is in some sense crowned by the stars of the zodiac as both the ruler and king of all the stars of the visible heavens. So just as the sun, as the prince of heaven, is surrounded by the stars of the zodiac, in the same way this woman clothed with the sun has stars on her head because she is the queen of the universe. The sun, however, is a unique prince and monarch. Again, just as the crown of the sun contains the 12 constellations of the zodiac, so does the crown of Mary, who is clothed with the sun, contain 12 most splendid and shining stars.”

St. Lawrence follows the direction of his argument fearlessly, confident in the precision of his formulation. While what he says next is bold indeed, it follows from an unoffending and sound principle, namely, all that is Mary’s was freely given by God as a fitting honor for His spouse and mother.

“Just as Joshua commanded the sun and the moon to delay their movements and just as Elijah commanded fire to come down from the sky and just as he opened the heavens to rain and then closed them, so Mary is able to command all things in all ways. O most high and most divine queen, on whose head there is a crown of 12 stars. Just as Christ commanded the winds and the sea, and they obeyed Him, just as He also commanded the dead to rise, so now it is given to Mary to do the same because she is granted divine authority and power and is made as a God to the world. It is just like when God said to Moses in Exodus 7:1: ‘See, I make you as a God to Pharaoh.’ The meaning of this gift of authority to Moses, and in a parallel way of the gift to Mary, is that God granted him the power and authority to do in Pharaoh’s kingdom what God could do in His own kingdom. In a similar sense God granted Mary, as the true spouse of the Almighty and the true mother of Christ all-powerful, authority over the works of His hands. He conferred upon her the authority of the Almighty Himself in her power over heaven and made her mistress of the universe by deputation. Thus she stands at the right hand of God as the most high queen of heaven and earth: ‘[A]t your right hand stands the queen in gold’ (Ps. 45:9). O queen above all men and above even the marvelous minds of angels! Who in the world will be able to find words to express in its proper dignity what kind and how great is this glory of the most high and holy queen?”

The magnitude of this dignity flows chiefly and fittingly in St. Lawrence’s interpretation from Mary’s divine motherhood:

“The most splendid star in the crown of 12 stars represents the honor of Mary’s divine motherhood, the glory of divine election as a spouse, and the conferral of divine power over all creation. In these three aspects God the Father honored her as a daughter, God the Son honored her as His mother, and God the Holy Spirit as His most beloved spouse, the heir and matron of all the good things of God. Thus we have the crown divinely constructed from 12 most splendid stars.”

In addition to signifying Mary’s celestial queenship, St. Lawrence understands the stars of her crown to signify the particular wisdom that belongs to the Mother of God, and thus he unites her position as queen of heaven and earth with her role as intercessor for the people of the world before the right hand of God’s power. Thus he says:

“In Sacred Scripture we also read of a crown of wisdom. Indeed we hear the words of Solomon: ‘The crown of the wise is their riches’ (Prov. 14:24 [Douay-Rheims]). What if this crown indicates the wisdom of the Blessed Virgin Mary? What sort and how great a treasure of wisdom do we believe the holy person of Mary to be? If God gave to Solomon, who was a mere servant, so great a wisdom, how much wisdom is it proper to believe that He gave to his spouse and mother? The most perfect crown of 12 stars represents the knowledge of all creatures. In addition the crown of 12 stars is the knowledge of all the mysteries of our own faith, the manifest divine truth of whose signs Mary most perfectly grasped and most fully understood beyond the elect, above all the apostles, and above all the angelic spirits. She understood these things to a higher degree than is even possible to contemplate, let alone express. Thus Mary advocates on our behalf in the presence of God those things which are most prudent for us just as that wise woman of Tekoa did for Absalom in the presence of David (cf. 2 Sam. 14). Moreover, God, who loves us thoroughly and greatly desires our salvation, wished Mary to be most wise and at the same time most favored in the presence of his majesty in order that she might be most suited to beg for our salvation. Mary’s position before God is as was Esther’s before Ahasuerus. Esther pleaded with the great king for and was granted the salvation of her people, who were marked out for death by the impious Haman because of his bitter hatred and hostility toward the Jewish people” (cf. Esther 5-8).

Thus, in the eyes of St. Lawrence, the crown of 12 stars on the woman clothed with the sun signifies God’s desire to reveal the Blessed Virgin as the most powerful queen of heaven and earth and a most wise and efficacious intercessor for the salvation of the People of God.

[1] C. Rengers, O.F.M. Cap., The 33 Doctors of the Church (Rockford: TAN Books and Publishers, Inc.), 565.

Associated PDF File:
This article is available as a PDF download

You may need to obtain a free copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader to use this
PDF file.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church: Ten Years Later

Most. Rev. Daniel M. Buechelin, O.S.B.
From the sep/oct 2002 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

In chapter six, verse 34 of the Gospel according to St. Mark, we read: “As he landed he saw a great throng, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” Notice, He began to teach them many things. Teaching many things is an important pastoral concern in a culture that tends to value not so much what is true, but rather what pleases. Concern for the
doctrinal content of catechesis is an eminently pastoral concern. For the past 10 years the Catechism of the Catholic Church has provided the basis and the stimulus to renew the pastoral teaching of the faith in our Church.

For a good reason Pope St. Pius X chose as the motto for his pontificate, “Instaurare omnia in Christo.” “To restore all things in Christ” conveyed his perception that ignorance threatened the Catholic faith of believers nearly a century ago. He said that “it is useless to expect a person without formation to fulfill his Christian duties.” He repeatedly stressed the need to teach the doctrine of the Church, and his concern led to the publication of the Catechism of Pius X. [1]

St. Pius X’s concerns still apply today. It is pastorally urgent to present the Church’s teaching about the meaning of life and our eternal destiny, about the meaning and sanctity of marriage and family life, indeed about the sacredness of life itself.

In Redemptoris Missio Pope John Paul II reminded us that “faith is strengthened by sharing” (no. 2). In his apostolic letterNovo Millennio Ineunte, the Holy Father proposes evangelization as the challenge for our times. Once I heard him remark that the Catechism of the Catholic Church may be the greatest legacy of his pontificate (Ad Limina, March 1993). Catechesis lies at the core of evangelization, and it is eminently pastoral.

A significant part of the corporate pastoral and magisterial legacy of the bishops of the United States of the present era may well be their response to the challenge of implementing the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Thanks to the Catechism, we bishops have been restoring our direct responsibility for evangelization and catechesis in our country.

The original inspiration for the Catechism of the Catholic Church was the perceived need for a common language in service to the unity of our faith in the global context of cultural diversity and religious illiteracy. Dominican theologian Fr. J. Augustine DiNoia once expressed his concern that contemporary religious education has produced a “creedless Christianity,” a “catechetics without content,” which hampers the fulfillment of the new
evangelization and our pastoral catechetical mission [2]. The publication of the Catechism brought about a new moment for the faith of our Church, a moment in which our bishops recognized an opportunity for a genuine pastoral renewal of our catechetical mission and our episcopal leadership in fulfilling that mission.

The bishops established the Ad Hoc Committee to Oversee the Use of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1994. With the assistance of theological and catechetical experts, this committee of bishops prepared a process for the review of catechetical materials to ensure their conformity with the teaching of the Catechism. Since the review process began in 1996, more than 100 reviews of texts and series of texts have been concluded. From start to finish, approximately 400 hours are required of the experts for reviewing a catechetical series and most materials have required substantial revision. Publishers have come to appreciate this process, and we bishops prize the positive relationship we have been forging with them.

The fullness of doctrine presented in the resources we use for catechesis has suffered since Vatican II. Our bishops’ committee has detected a discernable pattern of doctrinal deficiencies, which thanks to the Catechism are being corrected. Our experience mirrors the summation of contemporary catechetical challenges cited by the General Directory for Catechesis (GDC). The GDC was published by the Congregation for the Clergy in 1997 and provides direction for the teaching of religion and for religious formation since the promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The challenges identified in the GDC are as follows:

  • The conciliar concept of Tradition is much less influential than Revelation as an inspiration for catechesis.
  • The interrelation of Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium does not yet harmoniously enrich catechesis.
  • It is necessary to arrive at a more balanced presentation of the entire truth of the mystery of Christ.
  • There are certain doctrinal lacunae about God and humanity and grace and sin.
  • It is still easy to fall into a “contentmethod” dualism (GDC, no. 30).

When I was in Rome for an Ad Limina visit in June 1998, a bishop asked the Holy Father during lunch which, of all the encyclicals and apostolic letters he has written, he considers the most important. Without missing a beat the Holy Father responded, “The first one.”

On my return to Indianapolis, I reread that first encyclical, entitled Redemptor Hominis (The Redeemer of Man). In that first work written just months after his election as Pope, the Holy Father set the agenda for his pontificate with an eye to the Great Jubilee, the new millennium, and beyond. Not surprisingly, all of his subsequent writings have their roots in that first letter.

Because of my familiarity with our catechetical resources, I made an unexpected discovery as I re-read his letter. Pope John Paul II pointedly addressed all of the areas of deficiency that the General Directory for Catechesis outlines and that our Ad Hoc Committee has discovered in our review of catechetical materials.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan, a respected Church historian, has remarked more than once that the public articulation of the major theological deficiencies in catechetical materials in the United States will mark an important moment in our recent Church history. If so, it is because of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

In June 2000 the media hardly took note of an important vote at our U.S. bishops’ meeting which is also of historic significance. We voted to establish a standing bishops’ committee on catechesis beginning in November 2002. Some issues that extend beyond the mandate given to the Committee to Oversee the Use of the Catechism challenge contemporary catechesis, for example, the treatment of human sexuality. This complex topic lies beyond the mandate of the ad hoc committee because the Catechism only addresses the moral dimension of human sexuality. Physiological and other aspects of this important topic lie beyond its scope. The committee on catechesis might also address more effectively the tension that exists in the debate over catechetical content versus methodology.

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church was being presented to the worldwide Church 10 years ago, Pope John Paul II noted that the new evangelization requires attention to inculturation and that local catechisms would be needed. When the new Catechism was first promulgated and published in English in 1994, the bishops of the United States chose to take time before addressing the matter of a national catechism in order that the universal Catechism of the Catholic Church would first be received and welcomed in our country. In 1998 the Congregation for the Clergy, which is responsible for the mission of catechesis in the Church, began to urge us to address the question of a national catechism. In June 2000 the U.S. bishops voted unanimously in support of developing a national adult catechism. As of this writing, the first draft of the National Adult Catechism is in the hands of the bishops for their review and comment.

Comparable to the notion that our National Adult Catechism is intended to “inculturate” the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church for our country, so the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has undertaken the development of a National Directory for Catechesis in order to “inculturate” the GDC as encouraged by the Congregation for the Clergy. The draft of this document is also in the hands of the bishops for review.

The promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1992 set all of this and more in motion. It was His Eminence, Cardinal Bernard Law, speaking on the floor of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the 20th anniversary of Vatican II in 1985, who first explicitly requested the development of a new catechism for our Church. The rest is a wonderful and still unfolding history.

[1] Francis Fernandez, In Conversation with God (London: Scepter, 1990), vol. 7, 97-98.

[2] Symposium on Catechesis, Archdiocese of San Francisco, November 1998. Most Rev. Daniel J. Buechlein, O.S.B. is the Archbishop of Indianapolis and the newest member of CUF’s episcopal advisory council.

Associated PDF File:
This article is available as a PDF download

You may need to obtain a free copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader to use this
PDF file.

The Unseen Heroins

Families for Life
Mary Ann Kuharski
From the Sep/Oct 2002 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

I was struck by a recent New York Times article about a young naval commander in charge of a guided missile destroyer, who was preparing to head out to sea. The story’s headline read, “In command on shore and at sea,” and it described a 39-year-old officer who is “a rarity in the Navy”- a woman in command of a warship.

But it was the accompanying photo that really tugged at my heart: The woman commander was holding a young toddler, draped across her arms.

As my kids would say, “What’s wrong with this picture?” The article described in glowing terms, a “39-year-old, five-foot mother with a determined swagger” and her “ability to take the helm of a large warship and its 300-member crew as it headed to sea.”

It failed to mention, however, just who would be “in command on shore,” taking care of her child or children, while she is on her six-month watch at sea with the U.S. Navy.

Are we so turned around as a society that it is now more noble and noteworthy for a woman to leave home and children to serve in battle, than to nurture and care for the souls entrusted to her by God-her own children?

The naval commander story reminded me of another woman in the news: She serves her state as lieutenant governor and took time from her official duties long enough to give birth to twins before going back on the job. She recently announced her bid to run for governor.

Obviously this mother believes the citizens of her state need her more than her babies.

Time will tell.

Not long ago, a local newscaster offered evening viewers a “unique insight” into her first-time pregnancy, taking her audience along (via camera crew) on doctor visits and ultrasound tests. As the event drew closer, she collected donations of baby items in honor of her little one, to later be given to needy families in the community.

Yet after all the fanfare and a mere 10 days after her baby’s birth, she was back at the anchor desk reporting the evening news looking trim and slim. Gossip columnists attributed the quick on-the-job-return to her fear of missing the “news sweep” polls, which could cut into her popularity with the public. If only such competitive moms who feel the call of career more than a child could understand a few simple life lessons:

  • Children have an uncanny sense of knowing if they-or something else-have top priority.
  • Time is of the essence. A woman can always resume or pursue a career. Millions do it every day. But this is your one-shot opportunity to be with your child.
  • Love really is a four-letter word spelled T-I-M-E-“I love you enough to give you my time.” A sense of bonding and belonging is guaranteed to a child
    only when “quantity time” is spent with them-and not just “quality time,” as some would have us believe.

I will concede that these dressedfor- success mothers are a far cry from the ones I know.

The young moms I know may never receive an award or even honorable mention. They may never win an election or cause the stock exchange to go up or down.

You may never read about them in The New York Times or see them showcased in People magazine. They will command no ship, make no speeches, nor head a socially select committee of distinction. And the only decoration to be found on their shoulders may be diapers or baby spit-up.

These women by God’s grace have chosen to put the care of their husbands and children first.

It may not be valued or recognized by society’s standards, but truly they are, as more than one president has stated, “the very backbone of our great nation.” They are raising God’s babies-America’s greatest natural resource!

Even more importantly, the Church sees motherhood as answering a vocational call from God. Here’s what our Holy Father Pope John Paul II had to say about such women:

“It is in [the context of daily living], so humanly rich and filled with love, that heroic actions too are born. These are the most solemn celebration of the Gospel of life, for they proclaim it by the total gift of self. They are the radiant manifestation of the highest degree of love, which is to give one’s life for the person loved (cf. Jn. 15:13). They are a sharing in the mystery of the Cross . . . there is an everyday heroism, made up of gestures of sharing, big or small, which build up an authentic culture of life. . . .

“Part of this daily heroism is also the silent but effective and eloquent witness of all those brave mothers who devote themselves to their own family without reserve, who suffer in giving birth to their children, and who are ready to make any effort, to face any sacrifice, in order to pass on to them the best of themselves. In living out their mission, these heroic women do not always find support in the world around them. On the contrary, the cultural
models frequently promoted and broadcast by the media do not encourage motherhood. In the name of progress and modernity, the values of fidelity, chastity, and sacrifice, to which a host of Christian wives and mothers have borne and continue to bear outstanding witness, are presented as obsolete. . . . We thank you, heroic mothers, for your invincible love! We thank you for your intrepid trust in God and in His love. We thank you for the sacrifice of your life. . . . In the Paschal Mystery, Christ restores to you the gift you gave Him. Indeed, He has the power to give you back the life you gave Him as an offering” (Gospel of Life, no. 86, original emphasis).

Mary Ann Kuharski is a homemaker and mother of 13, six of whom are adopted and of mixed races, most with special needs, the author of several books, and director of PROLIFE ACROSS AMERICA. For more information on Mary Ann’s pro-life work, call (612) 781-0410, or fax (612) 781-5031, or visit

Associated PDF File:
This article is available as a PDF download

You may need to obtain a free copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader to use this
PDF file.

Height and Light for the New Jerusalem

Sacred Space
Michael S. Rose
From the sep/oct 2002 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

Innovative Romanesque elements such as the ambulatory and the masonry vault became more common during the early 12th century, as the emerging Gothic culture left its mark on the refined Romanesque architecture of the day. During the later decades of the same century, in fact, many other Romanesque elements were being transformed into Gothic. The pointed arch, for instance, superseded the semicircular arches of the Romanesque, and the multitude of carved figures used in Romanesque ornamentation were not only used to adorn the vast cavernous portals of Gothic churches, but they were also carved out of supporting columns, giving rise to architectural statuary. Yet the emergence of Gothic architecture in Europe was not merely the result of a development of Romanesque forms and the familiar basilican plan. Rather, its emergence owed much to important structural developments that differentiated the architecture of the 12th-15th centuries, as well as to advancements in scholarship, especially during the 13th century.

Looking Up

Influenced by the writings of such great thinkers as St. Thomas Aquinas, Christians began to deepen their spiritual aspiration toward union with God. Even more influential, in the area of church architecture- especially in France-was the work of Abbot Suger, who articulated his belief that light, color, richness, and beauty in church architecture should reflect the splendor of God. This belief that had spread throughout the medieval world was reflected in the overriding characteristic of Gothic architecture: a vigorous verticality that served to create a heightened sense of aspiration toward God and heaven. Coupled with this was an appreciation of the use of natural light as a means of creating a mysterious, otherworldly feel. Thus the two distinguishing characteristics wrought by the Gothic language are height and light. To this end, architects developed an ingenious and innovative structural system that afforded greater ease of vertical construction. The three essential elements of this new method are the pointed arch, the ribbed vault, and the flying buttress. The weight of the building was placed on perpendicular exterior supports called buttresses. These wall-like pillars set outside the church act like slender, gigantic fingers. Since the vertical walls were then free from bearing the weight of the roof, they could be designed with
large windows-a marked departure from the relatively small windows used in the design of Romanesque churches.

Growing Panes

Artists normally filled these large openings with screens of stained glass-small pieces of colored glass fit together to form images which told the stories of Jesus and the saints of His Church. Not only was this emerging form of sacred art practical in the sense that it served as a new iconographic element-it taught the dogmas and beliefs of the Church-it provided a way to convert natural light into a colorful heavenly light: When the sun shines through stained glass, the light is transmogrified into beautiful multi-colored patterns on the floors inside the church. This strange and unearthly light, seeming to emanate from the saintly figures of the windows, renders the whole of the interior space with an atmosphere of sanctity.

Although the stained glass window may ultimately be the most enduring contribution to future church architecture, the new structural system produced many interesting features that facilitated the Gothic church’s typically high, lighted interior. In fact, 19th-century architect Viollet-le-Duc contended that “Gothic” is more a structural system than an architectural style. “Everything is a function of structure,” he wrote, “the gallery, the triforium passage, the pinnacle, and the gable; no Gothic architectural form is the result of flights of fancy.”

Perhaps the most memorable structural element of the Gothic church is the flying buttress, which varies in shape and size from cathedral to cathedral, yet always serves the same structural purpose. Each is formed by a straight upper surface and a curved lower surface. Heavy spire-topped pinnacles were added on top of the outer pillars in order to properly weigh down the buttress. The presence of the buttress on the exterior of the building not only gives the church a certain elegant rhythm, but also conveys that sense of durability that was effected in earlier church architecture by the use of thick masonry walls.

Practically speaking, the buttress system served to support the church’s roof, which was made up of a series of ribbed vaults. The handling of weight and thrust was everywhere facilitated by the use of the pointed arch, which was employed because it allowed the architect to erect a vault over a rectangular space of any size. Yet apart from its structural appropriateness, the pointed arch is well suited to the Gothic language because it emphasizes the verticality of the entire structure, since it points upward unlike the semicircular arches used in Romanesque construction.

The men who designed these innovative structural elements that worked together so well visually and structurally were artists and engineers guided by geometrical concepts of proportion, yet one of the basic methods they used to acquire their technical knowledge was the process of trial and error: They kept at it until they perfected their building techniques. The result was one of the greatest achievements in the history of architecture.

Suger Daddy

Almost all Gothic architects, artisans, and craftsmen remain anonymous to us today. One name, however, is well known to art historians: Abbot Suger, who is credited as being the “father” of Gothic architecture. His abbey of St. Denis was a small, dilapidated 8th-century building when he reconstructed it between 1130 and 1140 using ribbed vaults and stained glass windows. During that decade, Suger built what is now considered the first Gothic church structure, despite his use of many typically Romanesque features. Nevertheless, the influence of the St. Denis reconstruction was felt immediately throughout the Île-de-France. Between 1130 and 1230, 25 cathedrals were built within 100 miles of Paris. The most well-known, of course, is Notre Dame in the capital city. (Almost all Gothic cathedrals in France were placed under the patronage of Our Lady, and therefore bear the name “Notre Dame.” Other than the cathedral at Paris, they are distinguished therefore by their city name, e.g., Rheims, Chartres, Beauvais.)

Gothic architecture and its accompanying arts soon radiated out from France to the rest of Europe during the course of the 13th century, taking its own shape in countries such as England, Germany, Flanders, and Spain.

Associated PDF File:
This article is available as a PDF download

You may need to obtain a free copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader to use this
PDF file.

The virtuous Circle of Catholic Education: Conald and Michele D’ Amour

Molly Mulqueen
From the Sep/Oct 2002 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

Catholic school students across the country get back into uniform this month, carrying with them all the promise of newly sharpened no. 2 pencils and ream upon ream of blank notebook paper. And we can’t forget the older students, all of those young men and women packing their trunks for the Catholic colleges and universities that they trust will prepare them for the world. The parents of all of these children have great expectations for Catholic education, but there are formidable challenges- financial, educational, and spiritual-to its continued success.

I talked about those challenges and how to overcome them with Donald and Michele D’Amour, a couple whose generosity and expertise have had an impact on Catholic education in their Diocese of Springfield, Massachusetts and beyond. Donald and Michele are the kind of people who can speak just as knowledgeably about religious education and spirituality as they can about standardized test scores, tuition assistance, employee benefits, and capital improvements. They both offer a wealth of personal and professional experience to the cause of Catholic education.

Donald is the chairman of the board and CEO of Big Y Foods, Inc., a privately owned supermarket chain which currently operates 47 stores throughout Massachusetts and Connecticut and employs nearly 8,000 people. Donald’s father, Paul D’Amour, founded Big Y Foods, and many family members, including some of Donald and Michele’s five children, currently work for the company. Donald started as a bagger and service clerk at Big Y Foods when he was a young boy, but took some time out for his own Catholic higher education, which began at Assumption College and culminated in a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Notre Dame.

Michele, who is a certified teacher and holds a master’s degree in education, is the educational partnership coordinator of Big Y Foods. They sponsor several educational projects for the schools in their marketing area, such as the “Homework Helpline,” which offers free help with homework problems to students in grades one through 12. Michele is involved in many civic activities in Springfield, and she sits on the diocesan school board.

According to Donald and Michele, some of the key problems in Catholic education extend from pre-school through graduate school. Much of it boils down to the erosion of a sense of Catholic identity in many schools, due in large measure to the lack of a steady supply of teachers well trained in the faith and committed to passing it on to their students.

“When it comes to Catholic education at the pre-undergraduate level, there is no question that there is a crisis,” Donald stated. “Just a generation ago, the staffing of the schools was filled by people who had a vocation for a very simple reason-many of them were religious women. One of the challenges is continuing to generate more teachers in the future who share this vocation, appreciate the differences between Catholic and secular education, and continue to present a real alternative to what I would classify as a more utilitarian approach to education in the public school system.

“[Catholic school] teachers, historically, have been dedicated to Catholic education. They have to be dedicated for the pay they are getting- or the lack thereof,” Michele commented. “But that day is changing. Those who have not been in it for the money, but for the reward of teaching in Catholic schools, are reaching the age of retirement. What I have found in the different areas I have been involved in is that now we have new teachers being hired who weren’t taught in the faith. There is an interesting dynamic where the Catholic schools are the training ground for first-year teachers, then they go off to real jobs with real pay. One of the weaknesses I see right now is that we have to pay [the teachers] more and make sure they know the faith and how to communicate it to the students.”

“Teachers have to be able to make a living,” Donald added. “Even if they are not being paid at the full level of public school teachers, there has to be a bridging of the gap in general and in particular there has to be fringe benefits.”

Donald is the current chairman of the advisory board of the Diocese of Springfield, where he told me that they are developing a strategic plan to raise teacher salaries without putting tuition out of reach for most families, and still offer tuition assistance to needy families. It is a financial balancing act.

Michele told me that for the time being, good teachers willing to stay in Catholic education need to be retrained in the faith, but she hopes that the pool of applicants will get stronger.

“What I would like to see is a better understanding of what it means to be Catholic taught to the elementary and high school students now, so that they are better prepared to enter Catholic colleges and to learn how to be a good provider of Catholic education,” Michele said.

And that is where the Catholic identity issue in Catholic schools comes full circle. Last year, Donald and Michele sponsored a Fides et Ratio  grant competition for 16 small Catholic colleges from around the country. The competition was named after Pope John Paul II’s encyclical that outlines the complementarity of faith and reason. They challenged these institutions to make a pragmatic plan to solidify their Catholic identity in their curriculum, campus life, and admissions process. Six colleges won $1.5 million dollars for their efforts.

“This is not a panacea, but it can potentially be used as a tool by the administrations to move in directions they already want to move in,” Donald explained. “We are trying to create a virtuous circle as opposed to a vicious circle so that Catholic colleges can do a better job of helping their students deepen their formation in the faith, from which will come religious vocations and outstanding Catholic teachers. If Catholic institutions don’t
take the lead in forming the next generation of Catholic educators, who will?”

“Some Catholic colleges are not a whole lot different from public colleges,” Michele stated. “They are teaching their students to be social service oriented, and that is a good thing, but that’s not all that it means to be Catholic. Social service is a byproduct of striving for salvation.”

According to Donald, Catholic colleges need to develop a stronger Catholic identity not only to thrive spiritually, but also to survive financially.

“I personally am convinced that for the Catholic colleges to stay alive, they have to offer a point of difference and they have to be up front about it. When we say ‘Catholic,’ we don’t mean they are overly pietistic, but that there is that dimension they have that is over and above what other colleges have to offer,” Donald explained. “The irony with Catholic colleges is that being silent about it or hiding the lamp under the basket is actually going to cause their financial demise. But if they brag about it and shout about it and cultivate their points of difference, that is their best chance for financial survival.”

And it follows that if Catholic colleges are different, their students will be different, too. Many of them will have similar professional goals as most other students, but their personal and spiritual goals will likely set them apart. So Donald and Michele encouraged the colleges who participated in the grant competition to think outside the standard SAT/GPA box for measuring a student’s aptitude for college success.

“Our observations were that admissions departments were off on their own and using the same kinds of quantitative criteria to evaluate students based on class rank or SAT scores. They didn’t even attempt to engage prospective students in a conversation as to why they would want to come to a Catholic college as opposed to a secular college. Nor did they have a discussion about whether getting more formation in their faith or asking questions about how they should live was even of interest to them,” Donald explained.

“The attitude was that the admissions office will bring students in, and then we will do our best to try and convert them somewhere during the four years they are here,” Donald went on. “Yet, we must do more to attract those students who might have that interest in the first place.”

The D’Amours are very humble about their work for Catholic education and optimistic that the challenges can be overcome.

“A lot of us are working hard to turn things around,” Michele said. “The lay population is getting much more involved, whether it be local school boards, diocesan school boards, or finance boards. They are bringing in lay communities with good ideas of how to turn around their particular diocesan school system. Things are getting better. It’s just going to take time.”

“Salt of the Earth” is a regular Lay Witness column designed to profile ordinary people who, with God’s grace, are leading extraordinary lives. Please send suggestions for future columns to

Associated PDF File:
This article is available as a PDF download

You may need to obtain a free copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader to use this
PDF file.

The Light of Humanity: Vatican II’s New Vision of the Church

Russel Shaw
From the sep/oct 2002 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

Considering the range of topics treated in the 16 constitutions, decrees, and declarations of Vatican II, it was predictable that different people would have different favorites. But the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium (literally, “The Light of Humanity”), unquestionably is one of the most important-arguably, the most important-of all.

Lumen Gentium provides the doctrinal framework for several other counciliar documents-the decrees on the laity, bishops, and ecumenical relations, for example. Indeed, according to the prominent American theologian Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J., “in one way or another the entire work of the Council is centered about the
theme of the Church.”

But the contents of the dogmatic constitution supply an even weightier reason for ranking it very high. Here is a new ecclesiology-a new vision of the Church-that aims to inspire and organize the whole community of faith.

It is best appreciated in light of history.

Although a lengthy draft declaration on the Church was prepared for Vatican Council I (1869-70), political and military events caused the Council to disband before it could be acted on. First, though, Vatican I affirmed the dogmas of papal infallibility and papal primacy, for which it is best known. One result, it is now generally thought, was a highly centralized ecclesiology focused on Rome.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, says that before World War I “theology had so concentrated on the question of the primacy-of the pope-as to make the Church appear to be essentially a centralized organization that one defended staunchly but which somehow one related to from the outside.” Hence the “enthusiasm and joy” when new thinking began to emerge emphasizing the Church’s “communitarian” nature. The new thinking reached a high point in 1943 with the publication of Mystici Corporis, Pope Pius XII’s landmark encyclical on the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ.

Such developments set the stage for Vatican II and Lumen Gentium. The dogmatic constitution was adopted on November 21, 1964, at the end of the Council’s third session, by a vote of 2,151-5, and was immediately promulgated by Pope Paul VI. Its scope is indicated by the topics of its eight chapters:

I. The Mystery of the Church

II. The People of God

III. The Church Is Hierarchical

IV. The Laity

V. The Call to Holiness

VI. Religious

VII. The Pilgrim Church

VIII. Our Lady

The “light of humanity”-lumen gentium-of which the constitution speaks is not essentially the Church, but Christ. This is the Christocentric context for understanding the Church as kind of sacrament-“a sign and instrument . . . of communion with God and of unity among all men” (no. 1).

Lumen Gentium explicitly embraces the image of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ along with other traditional images. But, as is well known, its own preferred image is the Church as the People of God. This approach helped open the way to the ecumenical program of Vatican II, as in a passage like this: “All those, who in faith look towards Jesus, the author of salvation and the principle of unity and peace, God has gathered together and established as the Church, that it may be for each and everyone the visible sacrament of this saving unity” (no. 9).

Cardinal Ratzinger finds much to praise in the People of God metaphor. “‘People of God’ conveyed the historical nature of the Church, described the unity of God’s people that also goes beyond the frontiers of sacramental states of life,” he says.

“It conveys the eschatological dynamic, the provisional and fragmentary nature of the Church ever in need of renewal; and finally, it expresses the ecumenical dimension . . . the variety of ways in which communion and ordering to the Church can and do exist, even beyond the boundaries of the Catholic Church.”

But there also is a problem: “People of God” can be misunderstood in a political sense. That error, all too common in liberationist thinking after Vatican II, led some to think of the Church’s mission as a Marxisttinged struggle for an earthly utopia and contributed to power struggles in the Church.

In 1985 Pope John Paul II convened an extraordinary assembly of the world Synod of Bishops to see how the Council had been carried out thus far. The Synod’s most important accomplishment was its articulation of the ecclesiology of “communion” (communio) implicit in Vatican II’s metaphors for the Church. Calling this a “synthesis” of conciliar thought, Cardinal Ratzinger situates its “point of departure” in union with Christ: “Fellowship ( communio) among men is born here and merges into fellowship (communio) with the One and Triune God.”

But serious ecclesiological questions remain. For example:

The relationship between primacy and collegiality.

Vatican II reaffirmed the dogma of papal primacy, but it also taught the doctrine of the collegiality of bishops-that bishops in union with the pope form a body (a “college”) in continuity with the apostolic college and participate with and under the pope in directing the Church.

Although primacy and collegiality complement each other, finding appropriate institutions to embody them has occupied a great deal of time and attention. The general assembly of the Synod held last October discussed this issue at length, and Pope John Paul is likely to take it up in the post-synodal document he will publish one of these days. But the debate will go on.

The relationship of the universal Church and local or “particular” Churches.

Which comes first, local or universal? Cardinal Ratzinger and Cardinal Walter Kasper, the German theologian who heads the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and who, in 1985, did much of the writing of the synod document that gave communio ecclesiology its new prominence, have been arguing that question over the last several years.

It has large practical implications for the authority of diocesan bishops, the authority of the pope and Roman Curia, inculturation, and theological, liturgical, and pastoral pluralism.

The relationship between the Church’s hierarchical structure and system of governance and the essential equality of her members.

Chapter III of Lumen Gentium discusses the clerical hierarchy, with particular attention to the relationship between the pope and the bishops-primacy, collegiality, papal infallibility, and the infallibility of the ordinary Magisterium. But Chapter IV makes it clear that lay people have a duty and right to participate in the mission of the Church that comes from Baptism, while Chapter V proclaims a universal call to holiness directed to the laity
as much as anyone else.

Like other ecclesiological principles, these are complementary. But making them work together smoothly remains a challenge.

Moreover, even the ecclesiology of communion can be put to inappropriate uses. This is especially likely to happen when issues like the relationship of bishops to the pope or the relationship of the laity to the clerical hierarchy are thought of as questions of power.

Recalling the dispute among Jesus’ disciples over who would be greatest (cf. Mk. 9:33-37), Cardinal Ratzinger says:

“Isn’t it just the same today? The Lord is going toward His Passion, while the Church, and in her, Christ, is suffering, and we on the other hand are entangled in our favorite discussion: who comes first with the power? . . .

“The Church exists to become God’s dwelling place in the world, to become ‘holiness.’ This is the only reason there should be any struggle in the Church-and not for precedence or for the first place.”

Human nature being what it is, the wrong kind of struggle may continue. But the vision of the Church communicated by Vatican II in Lumen Gentium  and reiterated by John Paul II is a permanent reminder of how things ought to be. In his first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis (The Redeemer of Man), published in 1979, John Paul put it like this:

“The Church wishes to serve this single end-that each person may be able to find Christ, in order that Christ may walk with each person the path of life, with the power of the truth about man and the world that is contained in the mystery of the Incarnation and the Redemption and with the power of love that is radiated by that truth” (no. 13).

That, finally, is what the Church is all about.

Russell Shaw, a member of CUF’s advisory council, writes from Washington, DC. He is the author of several books, including Ministry or Apostolate? published by Our Sunday Visitor, which may be ordered by calling Benedictus Books toll-free at (888) 316-2640. CUF members receive a 10% discount.

Associated PDF File:
This article is available as a PDF download

You may need to obtain a free copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader to use this
PDF file.

In Brief – September/October 2002

From the sep/oct 2002 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

Holy Father’s Intentions

Pope John Paul II has announced the following general and missionary intentions for September and October 2002:


For children and young people in Catholic schools, that in the course of their training they may encounter strong and wise educators who will help them to grow in their religious faith and healthy attitudes to life.

That the Holy Spirit, through the contribution of the Church and ecclesial communities, may help the two states of the Korean peninsula to rediscover the deep reasons for their reconciliation.


That catechists may be sustained by the prayers and collaboration of parish communities for the successful advance of the new evangelization.

That missionaries, priests, religious, and the laity may know how to proclaim with courage Jesus Christ’s love for the poor.

Wounded Church

We recently came across an important address by the Holy Father to some influential bishops on current challenges facing the Church, or what he called the “five wounds of the Church.”

The wounds he identified were (1) the sins and heresy of clergy and laity; (2) the threat of militant Islam; (3) the schism of Eastern Orthodoxy; (4) the cruelties and human rights violations taking place in Eastern Europe and Asia; and (5) persecution of the Church by secular authorities.

This address was not given by Pope John Paul II to the American cardinals during their meeting earlier this year. Nor was it given by Pope John XXIII or Paul VI during Vatican II.

Instead, this is taken from an address by Pope Innocent IV in 1245 to the bishops who had assembled for the first ecumenical Council of Lyons!

As these same wounds continue to afflict the Church today, we can learn from our own history and derive some consolation from the fact that the Church seemingly in every age has endured similar sufferings.

Lay Witness readers are strongly encouraged to read an article on the “five wounds of the Church” authored by our chairman of the board, Scott Hahn. This article may be obtained by calling CUF toll-free at (800) MY-FAITH.

Behold, Our Mother

The following is taken from the opening address given by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on September 15, 2001, at the Pastoral Congress for the Diocese of Aversa (Italy). The congress was dedicated to a re-reading of the Vatican II documents.

“To understand the ecclesiology of Vatican II, one cannot ignore chapters 4 to 7 of the Constitution Lumen Gentium. These chapters discuss the laity, the universal call to holiness, the religious and the eschatological orientation of the Church. In these chapters the inner goal of the Church, the most essential part of her being, comes once again to the fore: holiness, conformity to God. There must exist in the world space for God, where He can dwell freely so that the world becomes His ‘Kingdom.’ Holiness is something greater than a moral quality. It is the presence of God with men, of men with God; it is God’s ‘tent’ pitched among men in our midst (cf. Jn. 1:14). It is a new birth-not from flesh and blood but from God (Jn. 1:13).

“As everyone knows, the question of dedicating a specific document to Mary was widely debated. In any event, I believe it was appropriate to insert the Marian element directly into the doctrine on the Church [Lumen Gentium, chapter 8]. . . . The Church is not an apparatus, nor a social institution, nor one social institution among many others. She is a person. She is a woman. She is a Mother. She is alive. A Marian understanding of the
Church is totally opposed to the concept of the Church as a bureaucracy or a simple organization. We cannot make the Church; we must be the Church. We are the Church; the Church is in us only to the extent that our faith more than action forges our being. Only by being Marian, can we become the Church.”

For the entire text of Cardinal Ratzinger’s address, which was originally published in
L’Osservatore Romano on January 23, 2002, call CUF toll-free (800) MY-FAITH

Let Us Adore Him

One of the real bright spots in the Church today is the spread of Eucharistic devotion, particularly perpetual Eucharistic adoration and the resurgence of traditional Eucharistic devotions such as benediction. Yet, as individuals and parishes try to take advantage of these opportunities, they find that they could use some guidance, such as how to make a good holy hour, or how to conduct exposition with benediction appropriately.

That’s precisely why Helen Hitchcock of Women for Faith and Family (WFF) and Adoremus has been distributing a wonderfully handy booklet on exposition, adoration, and benediction. WFF is a leading Catholic outreach to women who desire to deepen and live their Catholic faith. Adoremus is an organization that seeks the renewal of the sacred liturgy in accordance with the authentic teaching and directives of Vatican II.

CUF is delighted to assist in the commendable effort to distribute widely these booklets on the Eucharist. Call us toll-free at (800) MY-FAITH, and we’ll send you a free copy of the booklet and other worthwhile materials kindly provided to us by WFF and Adoremus.

Liturgical Fine-tuning

Last March the Holy See issued revised Norms for the Celebration and Reception of Holy Communion Under Both Kinds in the United States. Items of note include:

  • An expansion of opportunities when Communion under both kinds may be offered (no. 23)
  • An admonition that excessive use of extraordinary ministers might be a reason for limiting Communion under both kinds (no. 24)
  • An emphasis on the role of ordinary ministers of Communion (nos. 26-27) and the proper use of extraordinary ministers (no. 28)
  • The requirement that the distribution of the consecrated species to additional ciboria and chalices is limited to ordinary ministers (no. 37).
  • A provision that extraordinary ministers approach the altar only as the priest receives Communion (no. 38) and the prohibition of lay ministers
    receiving Communion in the manner of the concelebrating priest or after the distribution of Communion (no. 39)
  • A mandate for a minister of the chalice that eliminates self-communication, “even by intinction,” and the passing of the chalice among communicants
    (nos. 44, 50)
  • The option of the communicant to receive from the chalice (no. 47)
  • The mandate of the consumption of all Precious Blood remaining after Communion; that it “never be poured into the ground or down the sacrarium” (no.

For the full text of the revisions , visit If you have any questions on liturgical matters, call CUF’s toll-free Catholic hotline at (800) MY-FAITH.

Weigel Room

George Weigel, author of Witness to Hope, the authoritative biography of Pope John Paul II, made the following comments about Pope John Paul II and Vatican II in an interview with ZENIT earlier this year.

“Unlike other ecumenical councils, Vatican II did not provide ‘keys’ to its teaching in the form of creeds, canons, or anathemas. It has been left to the pontificate of John Paul II to provide an authoritative interpretation of the Council, which the Pope has done in his own Magisterium and in those magisterial documents that reflect the deliberations of the Synod of Bishops.

“Like Blessed John XXIII, John Paul II thinks of the Second Vatican Council as a new Pentecost-a privileged moment in which the Holy Spirit prepared the Church for a springtime of evangelization. Contrary to the conventional readings of the meaning of Vatican II proposed by both Catholic traditionalists and Catholic progressives, John Paul II has insisted that the Council was not primarily about the distribution of authority and jurisdiction inside the Church.

“Rather, the Council was meant to revivify within the Church a profound sense of herself as the sacrament of the world’s salvation: the communio  in which we experience, here and now, a foretaste of what God intends for humanity for all eternity. In Karol Wojtyla’s experience of the Council as one of its most active Fathers, and in his authoritative interpretation of the Council as Pope, Vatican II was meant to prepare the Church, theologically and spiritually, to rediscover herself as a great evangelical movement in history, proclaiming to the world the truth about the human person, human community,
human origins, and human destiny.”

Witness to Hope may be ordered by calling Benedictus Books toll-free at (888) 316-2640. CUF members receive a 10% discount.

Associated PDF File:
This article is available as a PDF download

You may need to obtain a free copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader to use this
PDF file.

Common Priesthood, Uncommon Service: Why Women Shouldn’t Seek Ordination

Maria Rivera
From the Sep/Oct 2002 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

As a child of the post-Vatican II Church, the product of the era of feminism, and a member of a capitalistic society, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised by women who want to be priests badly enough to buy billboard space to declare their message: “Are you waiting for a sign from God? Here it is: Ordain women.”

Yet, instead of cheering in the name of equality, I was distraught. Rather than driving on like a “liberated” woman, like a consumer used to societal permissiveness and marketing schemes, something inside of me wanted to scream.

How can other women, who claim to be Catholic, so deeply misunderstand the meaning of priesthood? Worse yet, how can they not appreciate their own womanhood as a sufficient gift from God?

Acknowledging Our Gifts

In Baptism all of us, men and women, were anointed priests, prophets, and kings. This priesthood, which we all share, calls us to sacrifice and obedience to the Holy Spirit in the Church. The service, which we accomplish in the Holy Spirit through our common priesthood, has the ultimate goal of glorifying God, fulfilling His eternal plan.

To be Catholic requires the humility of Christ. Service calls all of us to humility. The moment we falter in humility we falter in service. Service is to be done for God, for the coming of His kingdom, not for self-glory, not to advance fashionable agendas or to stake out territories. Women who clamor to become ordained priests do not seem to be embracing the common priesthood, which calls all Christians to surrender and self-sacrifice. If they truly sought to serve they wouldn’t pursue the ordained priesthood as if it were a better prize. If they lived, accepted, and rejoiced in our common priesthood of service, they would rejoice in their womanhood, rather than indirectly reject it as a lesser gift.

All good things come from God, and all good things have their place. The ordained priesthood, which is reserved for men, serves its own purpose within the Church without diminishing the common priesthood which we all share, and without lessening womanhood. Furthermore, the pompous feminist argument represented on that billboard misrepresents women and reveals a tragic misunderstanding of Christian discipleship. The ordained priest stands ” in persona Christi,” in the person of Christ, to act as mediator on behalf of all the Church. To claim a right to stand in the person of Christ requires great pomposity and a lack of humility, for no one can rightly insist upon that which is a gift (cf. Catechism, no 1578). The call to the ordained priesthood comes directly from God. It is God who chooses how we are to serve. This completes the perfect order of God’s plans. For if it were up to us how we are to serve, what need would we have of His grace?

Join the Club?

Those who seek the ordination of women as a means of modernizing the Church are reducing the Church to the values of our secular society. Many feminists direct their anger at the Church’s hierarchy, which is composed of men: priests, bishops, cardinals, and the Pope. They refer to the hierarchy as a men-only club and interpret this as oppression, while ignoring the service of the Church toward women through 2,000 years. It is amazing to me that they can neither view the Church as God’s design nor appreciate the complementarity of man and woman. Their anger doesn’t seem to take into account who the Church is and what she has done for women. Their bitterness reveals a deep misconception of the value women bring to the Church precisely as women.

For over thousands of years the Church has served women. The Church is the strongest defender of unborn women and oppressed women throughout the world. The Church also shows respect for women in the fervent honor and veneration she bestows upon the Mother of God.

The Church does all this and more because she understands the heart of women. After all, the Church is the Bride of Christ. The heart of a woman, a bride, is to receive and be submissive. This is not a fault or a weakness, as the secular world and feminists would have us believe. The call to be submissive and to influence through quiet actions, to serve with the heart of a woman-be it as daughter, mother, or sister-is not only a challenge, but also an honor. Any woman who values her femininity as a gift from God can distinguish her unique call to serve. This precious vocation does not envy ordained priesthood because, true to her womanhood, she accepts and trusts the order of God.

Radical feminists attempt to taint in women that inborn capacity to trust and surrender by selling the idea that genuine femininity and womanly characteristics are cowardice and weakness, rather than a gift. At the root of the feminist’s equality is the mantra of inequality that quietly chants: “manlier is better.” But those who truly serve and honor the Church can see through this agenda because they deeply understand what the Church teaches: Our
equality is based on who we are, not what we do. We are all made in the image of God, and we are all His children.

Women do not need to be ordained priests in order to claim equality or to be of value and service to the Church. The ordained priesthood is not a prerequisite to holiness, which is everyone’s vocation.

As a woman trained in empowerment and accustomed to freedom, equality, and progress, I’ve pondered these issues for years. I have come to distinguish the line between secular values and the eternal values of the Church. I have learned to accept and respect the wisdom of the Church in preserving the teachings of Christ without succumbing to the world. This surrender to the Holy Spirit in the Church has in turn taught me to serve, not to envy; to accept, not to covet; to be grateful for my womanhood and to rejoice in the unique gifts of service men and women bring to the Church.

Maria Rivera writes from Wauwatosa, WI.

Only a baptized man (vir) validly receives sacred ordination. The Lord Jesus chose men (viri) to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry. The college of bishops, with whom the priests are united in the priesthood, makes the college of the twelve an ever-present and everactive reality until Christ’s return. The Church recognizes herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord himself. For this reason the ordination of women is not possible.


Associated PDF File:
This article is available as a PDF download

You may need to obtain a free copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader to use this
PDF file.