Fifty years after Vatican II ended, liturgy has become, for the most part, a TV dinner served up in “one size fits all” portions instead of being a celebration of Catholic diversity in unity. Why has liturgy lost so much of its Vatican II spirit of diversity? We would answer:
1. Because Rome’s understanding of unity is order, uniformity, hierarchy and obedience to hierarchy,
2. Because diversity in unapproved thought or liturgical practice is viewed as the seed of schism from the Roman Catholic perspective.
Given this situation, it is hard to believe that liturgical reform was first on the agenda of Vatican II.
“This decision (to address liturgical reform first) was a profession of faith in what is truly central to the Church… a Church freed from the hierarchical narrowness of the previous hundred years and returned to its sacramental origins.”
These are the words of the 35 year-old Joseph Ratzinger writing in his 1966 book about his views and experience as a scholarly advisor to the Second Vatican Council. (Theological Higthlights of Vatican II by Joseph Ratzinger)
Little did the then-future pope know that liturgical reform would reach so deeply into and question so profoundly “what is truly central to the Church”. Little did Fr. Ratzinger know then that he and his papal predecessor would do everything they could to shut down liturgical diversity along with all its concomitant theological inquiry.
The situation in the Church today is this: Roman Rite Catholicism and Vatican II Catholicism are like conjoined twins moving in different directions. Only this…one twin is stronger, always dragging the other along with it. Vatican II is not yet a Catholic Rite alongside the 20+ other Catholic Rites in union with Rome. So Vatican II, like the conjoined twin, has no life of its own, no freedom to develop its own theological perspective, it own liturgical expression or its own means of governance as other Catholic rites have. As a result of this, the conjoined Roman/Vatican II Catholic body continues to bleed members into larger and larger pools of Dones and Nones, such that the entire conjoined body is at great risk of dying, or worse yet… at risk of becoming entirely irrelevant in the near future.
There is still opportunity to remedy the inevitable and unnecessary demise of a Church that believes itself invulnerable. If Vatican II were raised from Council to the status of equal Rite/Church in union with Rome and the other inter-independent Eastern Catholic Rites/Churches, such separateness could redound to the greater benefit of the whole Body of Christ… making inculturation and inclusion, among other difficult issues, much easier to resolve.
If Rome were not amenable to raising Vatican II to a new rite within the Church, then one might remember that schism is not the dirty word it is made out to be. If it weren’t for the Eastern Church schisms, for example, Vatican II would not have had the modern experience of inter-independent governance as a working Catholic model for its teachings on collegiality. (Ever Ancient, Ever New: Structures of Communion in the Church by Archbishop John R. Quinn)
Vatican II expert, Richard Gaillardetz, wrote in his recent book, An Unfinished Council: “Vatican II was in many ways an unfinished council. The council bishops were able to establish key pillars in the construction of a new vision for the church of our time, but, for various reasons, they were not able to draw those pillars together into a coherent, unified structure.”
Along comes Francis, who is trying “to draw those pillars together.” Meanwhile, the energy of many Church reform organizations has been put on hold, as if this good pope and his advisory council can whip the Roman Catholic Church into a Vatican II mode… if only we wait long enough. Likewise, theories abide that our pontiff can pack the curial court with Francis-type cardinals available for the next papal election… if only he lives long enough and we wait long enough. Yet as popular as Pope Francis is himself, no up-tick in Mass attendance has been evident. And as for any possibility of doctrinal change, Pope Francis disavows the need for it.
The unfulfilled challenge of Vatican II is “to draw together those (key pillars identified by the council bishops)… to draw them “together into a coherent, unified structure” representing a new vision for the church of our time. The questions we raise are these:
1. Is the task of syncing the Vatican II and Roman visions for a vibrant unified Church an impossible task… as it has been for the past three papacies prior to Pope Francis?
2. Is this present task as impossible as was the syncing of the Eastern and Roman rite visions of the Church almost a thousand years ago?
3. Do we need to abandon the idea of syncing different visions for the Church? Could syncing these very different visions ultimately sink the Church?
Historically, different rites developed in the Church. These Catholic rites so needed to express their vision for the Church that they risked and endured schism in order to be faithful to that vision. The universality of the Church calls us to stop looking at different western visions of Catholicism as inferior or as threat to the vision that the Roman Rite holds for the Church-at-large.
The full implementation of Vatican II may very well require the establishment of a new inter-independent Catholic rite alongside the 23 other Eastern rites already in union with Rome. The work on this project starts with the self-identification of women and men, lay and clergy, as Vatican II Rite Catholics in union with Rome. Much of the formation of a Vatican II Rite has already started with national and international reform organizations comprised of laity, theologians, clergy and religious, including local and regional Eucharistic communities.
Now is the time to pick up the unfinished business of the Second Vatican Council: transvaluation of doctrine and its intimate connection to liturgy. The evolution of computer technology continues to make this task easier by the day while it also increases the potential for full and active participation of all.
In closing, we remember these words from Pope John XXIII’s inaugural address at the opening of the Second Vatican Council, October 11, 1962:
“In the present order of things, Divine Providence is leading us to a new order of human relations… And everything, even human differences, leads to the greater good of the church.”