What does the Church think of man?

25 Oct

(This is the first in a series on our Church and our personal faith as we answer the call to spiritual renewal in the Year of Faith.)

Vatican Council II has not failed – it has not been tried.

Following the close of that historic council, the Church in America became deeply involved with renewal of the liturgy and revamping the role of lay people in the parish and diocese.

This was and is good and necessary. However, Vatican Council II was historic because it was convened, not to fight heresy and the world, but to engage itself fully in the world. The Son of God became fully human to reach all of humankind. His Church, the Body of Christ, must faithfully follow the Lord into the very heart of the world, into its victories and failures, its joys and sorrows, its errors and its truths.

What does the Church think of man? What measures are to be recommended for building up society today? What is the final meaning of man’s activity in the universe? These questions call for a reply. From their answers it will become increasingly clear that the People of God, and the human race which is its setting, render service to each other; and the mission of the Church will show itself to be supremely human by the very fact it is religious (Vatican Council II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, No. 11).

This was the purpose of that great council. The first document approved by the Church Fathers was that on the renewal of the liturgy. The worship of the Church, especially the Eucharistic sacrifice, is the source of holiness, healing, spiritual growth and the energy for formation of a worshiping community.

Further, the council states that the “celebration of the Eucharist is the true center of the whole Christian life for both the universal Church and the local congregation …” (Vatican Council II, “Instruction on the Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery,” No. 6).

Since Vatican Council II, we have experienced divisions in the Church – people label one another conservative or liberal, traditionalist or innovator. In the early days after the Council, there were often heated exchanges among Catholics; theologians vied back and forth for acceptance of this or that theory; even among bishops, we experienced stress and strenuous disagreement.

The concerns, on all sides, were both real and relevant.

  • Doctrine is defined by the Church by the authority of Christ and in keeping with revelation, through Scripture and Tradition, and must not be changed.
  • Doctrine seems to stifle the spirit of freedom; what matters is one’s personal relationship with God.
  • Doctrine must develop, to meet the needs and challenges of each age, but such development must not deny the basic truth expressed by doctrine.

Development of doctrine is not recent in Church history. Back in the 5th century, St. Vincent of Lerins wrote these words:

Is there to be no development of religion in the Church of Christ? Certainly, there is to be development and on the largest scale. (Liturgy of the Hours, Book IV, pp. 363-64.)

And if that is not ancient enough for you, just recall the struggle of the early Church on the question of whether Gentile converts needed to be circumcised. Note especially St. Paul’s faceoff with St. Peter when the latter decided to side with the “circumcisers” (See Gal 2:7-14).

There is a need for development of doctrine. But as St. Vincent again wrote:

(Development of doctrine) must truly be development of the faith, not alterations of the faith. Development means that each thing expands to be itself, while alteration means a thing is changed from one thing to another.

                  (Ibid, also see “Voices of the Saints,” Bert Ghezzi, Doubleday)

(In Part 2 of the series: The Catechism, catechesis and formation.)

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