Sunday, January 21, 2007

What Lumen Gentium Really Says

Anita posted an interesting item concerning the Holy Father's response to the French bishops who publicly opposing the upcoming motu proprio concerning the Tridentine liturgy. Her commentary on one bishop's response is rather telling:

One of these bishops is quoted as having inanely uttered the following: "One cannot erase Vatican II with a stroke of the pen."

As we know, even a quick read-through of Sacrosanctum Concilium is enough to tell us precisely who it is that is erasing Vatican II, and who has been doing it ever since the Council adjourned -- and it ain't Pope Benedict.

She even helpfully highlights some of the high points of this dogmatic constitution.

A I mentioned, people who often refer to the Spirit of Vatican II as an excuse for novelties have either apparently not read the documents or have gravely misinterpreted them. In particular, I think Lumen Gentium is profoundly misunderstood on both extremes of the Church.*

I decided to reread Lumen Gentium today to see where someone might find the seeds of acceptable dissent. It might simply be that I have on the wrong pair of glasses, but I don't see it. However I do see a whole lot that talks about the proper role of the laity, in relation to the authority of the Church. For your benefit, I'll post some of them here.

From section 22:

In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power. The order of bishops, which succeeds to the college of apostles and gives this apostolic body continued existence, is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church, provided we understand this body together with its head the Roman Pontiff and never without this head.(27*) This power can be exercised only with the consent of the Roman Pontiff.

From section 23:

For it is the duty of all bishops to promote and to safeguard the unity of faith and the discipline common to the whole Church, to instruct the faithful to love for the whole mystical body of Christ, especially for its poor and sorrowing members and for those who are suffering persecution for justice's sake,(160) and finally to promote every activity that is of interest to the whole Church, especially that the faith may take increase and the light of full truth appear to all men. And this also is important, that by governing well their own church as a portion of the universal Church, they themselves are effectively contributing to the welfare of the whole Mystical Body, which is also the body of the churches.(34*)

I want to point out the term discipline in this paragraph. Unlike a doctrine, a discipline is not something binding in the same way as it is for doctrine. It is binding in that the discipline is for the proper ordering of the Church. Because of this, discipline can change. You can read more about Ecclesiastical Discipline here. Some examples of discipline are the specific practices in the form of the liturgy and priestly celibacy. While these can change, we're still subject to the appropriate authority to determine what those disciplines are.

The dust-up we've had recently stems from the suggestion that the laity should challenge the authority of the Holy See to make changes in matters of discipline. While I think it's certainly reasonable to want to understand changes and the reasons for them, I think the idea of "challenging" such changes is problematic. A "challenge" is what one does when wants to fight, not to submit. While we should certainly want to ask questions of our Holy Father's intentions, we shouldn't be challenging Him on matters that are clearly within his jurisdiction.

Besides that, we also owe obedience to our bishops, and it is through our bishops that disciplinary changes reach the faithful.

From section 26:

Every legitimate celebration of the Eucharist is regulated by the bishop, to whom is committed the office of offering the worship of Christian religion to the Divine Majesty and of administering it in accordance with the Lord's commandments and the Church's laws, as further defined by his particular judgment for his diocese.

And in 27:

In virtue of this power, bishops have the sacred right and the duty before the Lord to make laws for their subjects, to pass judgment on them and to moderate everything pertaining to the ordering of worship and the apostolate.

Wht about priests and deacons? How do they fit into this hierarchy? (BTW, that word is used many times in Lumen Gentium. In fact, section 8 discusses the fact that one cannot separate the hierarchical structure of the Church from the mystical Body of Christ.)

Well, priests and deacons are office holders in the givernance of the Church:

Bishops, therefore, with their helpers, the priests and deacons, have taken up the service of the community, (11*) presiding in place of God over the flock,(12*) whose shepherds they are, as teachers for doctrine, priests for sacred worship, and ministers for governing.

So what is the role of the Laity? Is it to conscientiously dissect every decision made by the Holy See and the college of bishops to determine whether changes are suitable?

Not according to section 37:

The laity should, as all Christians, promptly accept in Christian obedience decisions of their spiritual shepherds, since they are representatives of Christ as well as teachers and rulers in the Church. Let them follow the example of Christ, who by His obedience even unto death, opened to all men the blessed way of the liberty of the children of God. Nor should they omit to pray for those placed over them, for they keep watch as having to render an account of their souls, so that they may do this with joy and not with grief.(

But what about the common priesthood? Isn't that essentially the same as the hierarchical priesthood? Why shouldn't laity have the same roles as priests?

Here's where the rubber meets the road.

Section 10:

Though they differ from one another in essence and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are nonetheless interrelated: each of them in its own special way is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ.(2*) The ministerial priest, by the sacred power he enjoys, teaches and rules the priestly people; acting in the person of Christ, he makes present the eucharistic sacrifice, and offers it to God in the name of all the people. But the faithful, in virtue of their royal priesthood, join in the offering of the Eucharist.(3*) They likewise exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity.

Whoop! There it is!

The ministerial priesthood presents the eucharistic sacrifice and offers it in the name of all the faithful to God. We exercise our priesthood by "receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity."

We have different roles. They are ordered by the Church, which is the Body of Christ, and which is ruled over by the visisble head on Earth (section 18), the Holy Father.

I could go on, but you can read the document yourself. You won't find anything there to support the notion of "challenging" authority or loyal dissent. While subsidiarity is ideal, sometimes the Holy Father has to make decisions to enhance solidarity. It is our obligation to submit and to seek understanding, not to challenge and seek our own ends.

*With due respect to Fr. John, I really do see myself somewhere in the midst of that continuum. I don't adhere to ultra-traditionalism or to the "Call to Action | We are Church | Catholics for a Free Choice" or any of the organizations that claim to be Catholicism while dissenting from the doctrines of the faith.

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