- Marriage is our sacrament (orthosphere.org)
- Vatican to survey laity on sex, family issues in lead-up to synod on family (lifesitenews.com)
Posted by Fr Nelson MCBS on November 5, 2013
Posted by Fr Nelson MCBS on January 16, 2013
CELEBRATION OF THE YEAR OF FAITH
AND RELIGIOUS RENEWAL PROGRAM IN M. C. B. S.
MCBS EUCHARISTIC APOSTOLATE
ALUVA -683 112
MCBS GENERALATE, ALUVA
Dear Rev. Fathers,
In the Acts of the Apostles we read that God has opened the door of faith for the early Church. But did you know that God has opened the door of faith for each one us and he invites us to step through the threshold into a deeper relationship with him. With his Apostolic Letter of October 11, 2011, “Porta Fidei, Pope Benedict XVI declared that a “Year of Faith” will begin on October 11, 2012 and conclude on November 24, 2013. October 11, 2012, the first day of the Year of Faith, was the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and also the twentieth anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. During the Year of Faith, Catholics are asked to study and reflect on the documents of Vatican II and the Catechism so that they may deepen their knowledge of the faith. The upcoming Year of Faith is a “summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the One Saviour of the world” (Porta Fidei 6). In other words, the Year of Faith is an opportunity for Catholics to experience a conversion – to turn back to Jesus and enter into a deeper relationship with him. The “door of faith” is opened at one’s baptism, but during this year Catholics are called to open it again, walk through it and rediscover and renew their relationship with Christ and his Church.
In connection with the year of Faith MCBS Eucharistic Apostolate is privileged to organize a renewal program for our members. It is the fine opportunity to renew our religious commitment basing on the study, reflection, and discussions on the official teachings of the Catholic Church on Religious life, namely Catechism of the Catholic Church Nos. 871-945, Perfectae Caritatis, Redemtionis Donum, Vita Consecrata and other homilies of Popes. It was also one of the decisions of the 18th special General Synaxis (No.8) to organize renewal programs as part of our ongoing formation. So we humbly request you to co-operate, participate and take the best advantage of this renewal program. As we cannot conduct a new evangelisation without new evangelizers let us earnestly be prepared for the New Evangelization.
Yours Fraternally in the Eucharistic Lord
Frs. Jacob Naluparayil, George Theendapara & Jose Thundathil
Councillors for the Eucharistic Apostolate
MCBS GENERALATE. ALUVA
As all of you know the Holy Father Benedict XVI has declared the Year of Faith on 11th October 2012 which will be concluded on 24th November 2013. In preparation to this great event He has promulgated an apostolic letter under the title Porta Fidei explaining the aim of the Year of Faith and how we shall implement it in our life. The Bishops’ Synod to be held in October 2012 in Rome shall studied and discussed the New Evangelization. All these attempts aim at the renewal of the Church. All feel that there is an urgent need of an Aggiornamento – an updating of the Church with its contents. Since the Religious Life is the vital part of the Church, the renewal of the Church necessarily implies renewal of the Religious Life
The KCBC has also given norms for putting into practice in our context the guidelines given by Rome. There are nine action plans given by the KCBC to be adopted in the communities of consecrated people. We have to study them and bring them into action.
In His apostolic letter Porta Fidei Pope Benedict XVI writes: “One thing that will be of decisive importance in this Year is retracing the history of our Faith, marked as it is by the unfathomable mystery of the interweaving of holiness and sin. … By Faith, men and women have consecrated their lives to Christ, leaving all things behind so as to live obedience, poverty and chastity with Gospel simplicity, concrete signs of waiting for the Lord who comes without delay” (# 13) By this the Pope reminds us of the urgent need of renewal and revival of Religious life. Since faith is the source and constant stimulation of our religious consecration, strengthening of faith means the resurgence of our commitment.
Besides, our previous General Synaxis has earnestly recommended a renewal course in the whole Congregation which will help the members to revive the commitment they have made in religious profession. Imbibing inspiration from all these authentic sources the General Council has decided to conduct in this Year of Faith a renewal course for all the members of the Congregation. The members are divided into five groups according to their age. The department of Eucharistic Apostolate, headed by Rev.Fr.Jose Thundathil is entrusted to organize the course. He will inform you in time the details of the course.
My dear Fathers, I cordially invite each one of you to co-operate with the programme and participate actively in the course to which you are assigned. Consider it as a religious obligation. I am sure that this course will bring more life and vigor to our Congregation.
Fraternally Yours in the Eucharistic Lord,
Fr.George Kizhakkemury mcbs
EMMAUS PROVINCIAL HOUSE, KOTTAYAM
Dear Reverend Fathers/ Brothers,
It gives me real joy to join you in thanking and glorifying God for the great and benevolent love He has showered on the Missionary Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament (MCBS) since its very conception. As we are on the threshold of Year of Faith let us acknowledge the commitment, courage and dedication of our Founding Fathers Very Rev Fr Mathew Alakkalam and Very Rev Fr Joseph Paredom and our forfathers. Let us appreciate their resolute faith, unwavering determination and unmatched self-sacrifice for the causes of the Universal Church particularly of the Syro Malabar Church.
The Year of Faith summons us to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the One Savior of the world (Porta Fidei 6). Its an opportunity to experience a conversion – a return to Jesus and enter into a deeper friendly relationship with him. The Holy Father has described this conversion as opening the “door of faith” (Acts 14:27). The “door of faith” is opened at one’s baptism, but during this year we are called to open it again, walk through it and rediscover and renew our relationship with Christ and His Church.
Year of Faith is closely associated with the New Evangelization recently launched by Pope Benedict XVI. It is a call to deepen our own faith, have confidence in the Gospel, and possess a willingness to share the Gospel. The New Evangelization is first and foremost a personal encounter with Jesus Christ; it is an invitation to deepen our relationship with Christ. It is also a call to share our faith with others. In the same the Year of Faith also calls religious to conversion in order to deepen our relationship with Christ and to share it with others.
The story of MCBS is the history of being witness to the Word of God. Our commitment to the Word is praiseworthy. A religious congregation like MCBS certainly exists to serve and love people of God, to nurture them, motivate them, fit them morally and spiritually and above all to have an optimistic attitude towards life and its challenges. I am sure that the renewal programmes anchored by MCBS Eucharstic Apostolate Team in the Year of Faith for our members will provide ample opportunity to renew and strengthen our religious commitment. I wish and pray that all the MCBS members translate their dream in to reality, in their various fields of apostolates. “What the world is in particular need of today,” Benedict XVI wrote, “is the credible witness of people enlightened in mind and heart by the word of the Lord”
I extend my heartiest congratulations and appreciation to Rev Dr Jose Thundathil, the General Councilor, Rev Dr Jacob Naluparayil and Rev Fr George Theendappara, the Provincial Councilors for Eucharistic Apostolate, and all the members of Eucharistic Apostolate team. It is my fervent hope and prayer that the Good Lord will continue to guard, guide and sustain us to grow from strength to strength to His glory.
With prayerful regards, yours in Eucharistic Lord,
Fr Francis Kodiyan MCBS
Emmaus Provincial Superior
ZION PROVINCIAL HOUSE, KOZHIKOD
Precious Brother Priests
Prayerful greetings from our Zion.
As we know, every fiber of our being is having tremendous ‘Mission Spirit’. That is why we earnestly wanted to reach the four corners of this planet to sow the seeds of THE WORD.
At the same time we are to make a thorough examination of conscience about our faith life in particular and the faith life of the people whom we serve, in general. Let us humbly acknowledge the truth and fact that we are not up to the expectation of Jesus in this regard. What we are to do is just meditate upon: Luke 22, 31-33, and do the needful.
This is the opportune time to serve the purpose as Pope Benedict XVI declared ‘ Year of Faith’, that truly focus on genuine and radical introspection upon the faith life of each one of us. Let us pray, think and work together with our Leader to regain and reinstate our solid faith life through our whole hearted support and cooperation in the programs headed by the Eucharistic Apostolate of our Congregation.
Fraternally yours in the Eucharistic Lord
Fr Jose Mulangattil
MCBS Zion Province.
VENUE : MCBS GENERALATE
DATE : 24,25 JANUARY 2013
VENUE : MCBS EMMAUS PROVINCIAL HOUSE
DATE : 21,22 FEBRUARY 2013
VENUE : MCBS GENERALATE
DATE : 14,15 MARCH 2013
VENUE : JEEVALAYA, BANGALORE.
DATE : 11,12 APRIL 2013
VENUE : SANATHANA, THAMARASSERY
DATE : 23,24 MAY 2013
THEMES AND THE RESOURCE PERSONS FOR THE
CLASSES I, II
CONCECRETED LIFE IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH. (Nature and relevance of consecrated life, its Scriptural and theological aspects. Why does a Christian choose the religious life? Is religious life a superior way of Christian life? Chapter VI of Lumen gentium and the decree Perfectae caritatis imply a higher excellence when they refer to the “special” nature of this life (Lg 44; Pc 1), when they use comparatives in stating that religious are “more intimately consecrated” to Christ and enjoy a union with the Church by “firmer and steadier bonds” (Lg 44), and when they emphasize the “unique” eschatological sign value of the religious state (Lg 44; Pc 1). Rev. Dr. Francis Kodiyan mcbs
CLASSES III, IV
CATHOLIC PRIESTHOOD (Official teachings of Catholic Church on Priesthood, priestly identity. “Priests by sacred ordination and mission which they receive from the bishops are promoted to the service of Christ the Teacher, Priest and King. They share in his ministry, a ministry whereby the Church here on earth is unceasingly built up into the People of God, the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, in order that their ministry be carried on more effectively and their lives be better provided for, in pastoral and human circumstances which very often change…” (Presbyterorum Ordinis).
Rev. Dr. Mathew Olickal mcbs
NEW EVANGELIZATION The new evangelization is not a program; the mission of the Church is not a program. Our faith is a way of life. The mission entrusted to the apostles and to the whole Church is bold, specific, and deliberate, to teach and baptize all nations. The new evangelization requires new evangelizers. Evangelization will always contain as the foundation, centre and, at the same time, the summit of its dynamics. A clear proclamation that, in Jesus Christ salvation is offered to all men, as a gift of God’s grace and mercy.
Rev. Dr. George Koilparambil
FAITH OF JESUS AND THE TRUST OF THE DISCIPLES. The faith lived and demonstrated by the Jesus of the Gospels is the basic foundation of the disciple’s faith. Jesus passionately engaged to cultivate in his disciples His own trusting faith in the Father. These being the fundamental constituents of Christian faith, i.e., the faith of every Christian, it is all the more so for us religious, who seek perfection of baptismal consecration. Anyone who undergoes such a faith formation is automatically oriented towards the proclamation of the gospel, or evangelization. How can a religious belonging to the MCBS, advance in his faith formation each day, in the context of the ministry he has undertaken? How can he discover innovative ways and means of evangelization within the charism and the context of MCBS ministries?
Rev. Dr. Jacob Naluparayil mcbs
CLASSES VII, VIII
MCBS CONSECRATION (Nature, Charism and Challenges of MCBS Vocation, the founding Fathers of the Congregation have entrusted to its members, as their spiritual heritage, a religious life marked by love and single minded devotion to the Eucharistic Lord and missionary vitality. Its charism is to live and proclaim the Eucharistic mystery that is celebrated, to gather the children of God around the alter, to ‘praise God in the midst of His church, to take part in the sacrifice and to eat the Lord’s supper’ (SC 10) and up hold the real presence of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. The members try to obtain this through their dedicated life and various apostolates (Constitution No.8).
Rev. Fr. Jose Peedikaparambil mcbs
TIME TABLE FOR THE RENEWAL COURSE
09.30 INAUGURATION and CLASS I
10.30 Tea break
11.00 CLASS II and DISCUSSION
12.20 Examination of Conscience
12.30 Lunch, Rest
03.00 CLASS III
06.00 CLASS IV and DISCUSSION
07.15 HOLY HOUR, Supper
09.00 SAT SANG, Night prayers, To Bed
06.00 Morning Prayers, Meditation and Holy Mass
08.00 Break Fast
09.30 CLASS V
10.30 Tea break
11.00 CLASS VI and DISCUSSION
12.20 Examination of Conscience
12.30 Lunch, Rest
02.00 CLASS VII
03.15 CLASS VIII and DISCUSSION
04.30 Coffee, Departure
Very Rev. Fr. George Kizhakkemury (Chairman)
Very Rev. Fr. Francis Kodiyan ( “ )
Very Rev. Fr. Joseph Mulangattil ( “ )
Rev. Fr. Jose Thundathil (Coordinator)
Rev. Fr. Jacob Naluparayil ( “ )
Rev. Fr. George Theendapara ( “ )
Rev. Fr. Issac Kochukaniyamparambil
Rev. Fr. Thomas Kanjiramparayil
Rev. Fr. John Vattakkeril
Rev. Fr. Kuriakose Venatt
Rev. Fr. Pius Choorapoikayil
Rev. Fr. Joseph Vazheeparambil
Rev. Fr. Zacarias Elavanal (First Batch Leader)
Rev. Fr. Jose Pathiyamoola (First Batch Leader)
Rev. Fr. George Vallikattukuzhiyil (Second Batch Leader)
Rev. Fr. Thomas Vettukattil (Second Batch Leader)
Rev. Fr. Sebastian Muttamthottil (Third Batch Leader)
Rev. Fr. George Edamannel (Third Batch Leader)
Rev. Fr. Michael Vathapallil (Forth Batch Leader)
Rev. Fr. George Kattoor (Forth Batch Leader)
Rev. Fr. Joseph Vellaringatt (Fifth Batch Leader)
Rev. Fr. Varghese Panathara (Fifth Batch Leader)
Posted by Fr Nelson MCBS on December 10, 2012
Posted in Documents | Tagged: cardinal francis arinze, Catholic Church, Catholicism, Christianity, Francis Arinze, Mass, Pope Benedict XVI, Sacrosanctum Concilium, second vatican council | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Fr Nelson MCBS on October 7, 2012
Posted in Catechism, Documents | Tagged: Catholic Education, Congregation, Congregation for Catholic Education, Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, Pope John Paul II, Pope Paul VI, second vatican council, Seminaries | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Fr Nelson MCBS on August 2, 2012
Ecclesiological Models: Vatican II and after
Dr George Karakunnel
As a systematic reflection on the Church ecclesiology is comparatively a recent branch of theology. For the Fathers the Church was an experienced reality and it deeply entered into their Christian consciousness. Their works include many ecclesiological aspects. But if we look for a treatise on the Church, we do not find it even during the medieval period. The early works on the Church were the creation of canonists, rather than of theologians. The ecclesiological developments that shaped the present-day self-understanding of the Catholic Church mostly were to come from 19th and 20th century with its crowning point in Vatican II.
The Second Vatican Council has remained as the springboard for all theological reflections for the four decades. In a sense the council was the conclusion to many points of theological discussion and in another sense it was an introduction to many others. Many of the theological discussions that went in the preceding period found clarity and official approval in the council. The theme of Church, which has been the central theme of the council, did find clarity with regard to many aspects. But it still left many things open to further discussion and theological elaboration regarding the Church. The council’s way of looking at the Church using various metaphors or paradigms such as “Mystery”, “Sacrament”, “People of God“, “Body of Christ” set the stage for different ecclesiological elaborations. The post-conciliar ecclesiology is characterized by various points of emphasis. The different trends in .post-conciliar ecclesiology could be assessed by asking the question “What are the models used?”.1
Model here means an idea or a catch-word or phrase taken from tradition or present-day language to explain the reality of the Church. There is the possibility of various models and they need not be opposed to each other. In fact models are mutually complementary. All the models will not be of the same value and nature. Some are very abstract while others are very concrete. Among .the many models, there could be a basic model. In this essay the following models are considered in order to bring out various approaches to the Church: The Church as a Mystery, The Church as the People of God, the Church as the Body of Christ, the Church as Communion, The Church as Servant, the Church as Herald.
For a long time in the past the Church was seen as an institution and as a society. It was clearly defined and measured by standards derived from the social, political or cultural spheres.5 In the work of Robert Bellarmine the Church is a society “as visible and palpable as the community of the Roman People, or the Kingdom of France, or the Republic of Venice”.3 The institutional view of the Church which reached its climax in the 19th century was nicknamed as “hierarchology” by Yves Congar. The Church was here seen as a “machinary of hierarchical mediation, of the powers and primacy of the Roman See, in a word, hierarchology. On the other hand the two terms between which that mediation comes the Holy Spirit on the one side, the faithful people or the religious subject on the other, were as it were kept out of ecclesiological consideration.
Institution-centred approach to the Church does not present an ideal model. In fact it distorted the image of the Church. In a deliberate way Vatican II wanted to stress the understanding of the Church more according to the Bible and the Fathers using the term “Mystery”.5 Consideration of the Church as mystery in Lumen Gentium is fundamental to the ecclesiology of Vatican II. The invisible, transcendent, supernatural character of the Church is shown by using the term “Mystery”. Because it is a divine reality, it cannot be expressed in human language. The Fathers of the Church used symbols and metaphors to speak about the Church. We cannot objectify the Church and extract scientific knowledge out of it because the Church is a faith-reality. We can have only participative knowledge of the Church.
The term “mystery”,which is used to describe the Church, has the advantage of bringing out the divine dimension of the Church. Rather than indicating something hidden, it shows the salvific plan of God fully unveiled and concretized in history through Jesus Christ. The consideration of the Church as “Mystery” can be linked with “Church as Sacrament”. The term “Sacramentum” was originally used as translation of the Greek “Mysterion” which meant God’s plan of salvation and its visible expression in Christ and the Church. Following this very ancient understanding of the Church, Lumen Gentium calls the Church Sacrament. “By her relationship with Christ the Church is a kind of Sacrament of intimate union with God and of the unity of all mankind, that is, she is a sign and an instrument of that union and unity” (LG 1).
Twentieth century theological reflections have brought out the idea of Christ as the Sacrament of God and Church as the Sacrament of Christ. Lubac, Congar, Rahner, Schillebeeckx, Chenu, Semmelroth and many others agree on this line of explanation of the Church. In fact they have especially followed the Fathers of the Church, especially, Cyprian and Augustine, in speaking about the Church as Sacrament. The theological meaning of mystery and sacrament, which are, used in modern ecclesiology points to the divine offer of salvation in and through Christ to human race. The Church in this way is spoken of as the “Sacrament”. It remains on earth as the visible sign and instrument of the reality of salvation offered by God to human beings.
The notion of the Church as mystery of salvation or as sacrament of salvation for humanity has the great advantage of pointing to the Trinitarian source of the Church. The Church thus viewed is an extension of God’s history into human history. It is the realization of God’s self-communication to people and the world. This model of the Church has not been without criticisms one which is that, though expressed with the help of the rich theological terms, mystery and sacrament, the idea of the Church here seems to be rather abstract. Another criticism raised is its lack of pastoral appeal. While it underlines the divine aspect of the Church, it does not give sufficient consideration to the human side of the Church.
In connection with the sacrament model we can also mention the Church seen in her relationship with the Holy Spirit. This presents Church as the temple or sacrament of the Holy Spirit. The Church is seen in this way as the continuation of the mission of the Holy Spirit. It is through the Spirit that the Church is born and sustained all throughout history. This view looks at the Church with a strong emphasis on Pneumatology. The approach is biblical and has found support in theological works of the present time. K. Rahner’s Dynamic Element in the Church, Moltmann’s Church in the Power of the Spirit, Congar’s I Believe in the Holy Spirit (3 Vols) are works that consider pneumatology as the main constituent element of ecclesiology. Although giving a very important insight about the Church, some expressions of this understanding of the Church, seen as the temple or sacrament of the Holy Spirit have received criticisms for its excessive spiritualistic view of the Church and not sufficiently stressing the temporal and social aspects of the Church.
The Fathers of the Church in Vatican II created a Copernican revolution in the theological thinking about the Church. Instead of a hierarchy-centred perspective they gave a people-centered perspective. Although Vatican II contains other models its typical ecclesiological model is pointed out as the people of God model which forms the subject of the second chapter of LG. Coming from the Bible as found in both OT and NT, this is the oldest name for the Church. But since the people of God idea regarding the Church was forgotten for a long time and was revived only in the twentieth century this has the claim to be the newest name for the Church.
In the beginning of the fourth decade of the present century an understanding of the Church as the people of God was put forward by the German theologian, M. D. Koster in his work Ekklesiologie im Werden (1940). In the pre-conciliar era this approach was not officially acceptable to the Church. Even Vatican II accepted this model only with hesitation. In the first drafts of LG we do not find this model. When it was finally brought it revolutionized the whole ecclesiological approach of the Council. Put forward as a foundational theme in the Church’s self-understanding, the people of God idea determines the whole outlook of the Dogmatic Constitution. In presenting the people of God concept as an all-comprehensive one, so as to include all categories of members of the Church, before they are differentiated into hierarchy and laity, LGhas resorted to Old and New Testaments. The most celebrated text of 1 Pet. 2:9-10 is quoted at the centre of the first article of the chapter dealing with people of God: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people…You who in times past were not a people but are now the people of God”.
The dignity and functions of all the members of the people of God quite in an unprecedented way are placed in clear light by the Council (LG 10-12). Through baptism all believers are called to a fellowship and are dedicated to the love and service of Christ. Vatican II wanted to correct a long-standing misconception that not all people are important in the Church. The vast majority of the people in contrast to members of the hierarchy were just peripheral members having no dignity and function of their own. There is a passage in Karl Rahner’s authobiographical interview published as I Remember. The interviewer Meinold Krauss asked Rahner, “Is the Pope the highest representative of Christianity?” With his characteristic depth and insight Rahner replied: I believe that you have to make a few distinctions. The Pope is the highest representative of the church, and if you like, with respect to certain juridical, ecclesial structures. But I maintain that the most humble, the most loving (to put in this old fashioned way), the most holy, the most apparently obscure person in the Church and not the Pope, is at the top of the hierarchy, the real hierarchy for which the Church is only a means”.11 The vision that lies behind the words of Rahner characterise the LG. In the context of the people of God frame, the Church is a community of brothers. Those in hierarchy are also brothers ordained to serve the community. Thus a new understanding of office is given by people of God ecclesiology.
The people of God concept has several strong points. It expresses the historical and dynamic character of the Church. It emphasizes growth and development of the Church in time and history. The people, as understood here, is a pilgrim people journeying to see the eschatological fulfilment. In fact, this people lives in the time that is between the incarnation and parousia. Through this people, the whole history is assumed to eschatology. The people of God is a messianic people which has received salvation. Being inserted into the large community of the human family, this people has a great task to fulfil. This means that the people of God is a community charged with a mission. The basis of reflection about the Church’s mission in the modern world, as GS has shown, lies in the understanding that the Church is the people of God living in the midst of human race united with it, and fulfilling a ministry of salvation in view of the whole humanity.
The model of ecclesiology based on the people of God expresses the participation and coresponsibility of all the believers. The Church is seen here “from below” rather than from “above”. LG says that the Church is a fellowship of life, charity and truth”. Perhaps this suggests too much people-centered ecclesiology for some. The post-conciliar reflection has shown that the reception of the people of God idea was complete neither in the leaders nor in the other members of the Church. It is also felt that much needs to be done in bringing the concept to practicality. The people-centred approach calls for a new form of Church ministry, government and leadership. It can be suggested that the synodal principle made operative in the Church would be quite in accordance with the people of God model.
Placed within the context of the people of God, the role of bishops and priests could be better understood. The essence of the hierarchical office, from the point of view of the people of God concept is ministry. The advantage of the people of God model is that, in a very positive way, it helps us not to forget the basic realty in the Church, namely, the people. It can also help us to understand a mode of functioning as far as leadership of the Church is concerned. Does the people of God idea suggest a democracy for the Church? Ratzinger points out that although Church may not be a democracy, it is also not a monarchy, or a modern centralized state.12 This suggests practically a people-centred pastoral leadership which does what is good for the people not only from the pastor’s point of view, but also from the community’s point of view. Having the people involved in making decisions and in executing those decisions, are important. This would imply a method of operation “from below”.
The BEC (Basic Ecclesial Communities) or BCC (Basic Christian Communities) model of the Church could be considered in this context. BEC are centred on the people. They attempt to form Christians into communities of faith, worship and love. Their appearance has been hailed as the resurgence of the ideal form of Christian living in the apostolic period. In the BEC the Gospel is accepted seriously. Listening to the Word and reflection on the Word with a view to living and acting feature the BEC. In these communities there is no sharp contrast between “ecclesia docens” and “ecclesia discens”. All are active members of the community. The Spirit of the BEC basically derives from an ecclesial vision which sees every person as important and essential to the formation of a dynamic Christian community.
The typical theology of the Church in the pre-conciliar period was (Mystical) Body of Christ ecclesiology. This concept of the Church is known from the time of St. Paul.13 Following St. Paul the Fathers spoke of the Church as the Body of Christ. It was in the middle ages that the adjective “mystical” was added to the Pauline use of Body of Christ. There was clear relationship maintained by the Fathers between the Eucharist and the idea of the Church. The Church was nourished, sustained and constituted by the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the body of Christ. The ecclesiology of the Fathers was, in this way Eucharist-centred. But this insight was lost sight of in the medieval period. The Eucharist was called by medieval theologians “Corpus Christi Verum” and Church was named “Corpus Mysticum”. Medieval theology later spoke about “Corpus ecclesiae mysticum” and the reference to Christ’s Eucharistic body became altogether absent.
The development of ecclesiology in the 19th century is connected with the revival of mystical body idea of the Church under the initiative of J. A. Moehler. The idea of the Church as mystical body was proposed by Moehler as a way out of the institutional view of the Church. For Moehler the term “mystical” pointed to a deep spiritual reality. Mystical body as applied to the Church indicated a supernatural organism vivified by the Holy Spirit. The understanding of the Church as Mystical Body gained wide acceptance in the Catholic Church with the publication of the encyclical “Mystici Corporis” by Pope Pius XII in 1943.
In the mystical body theology developed by Moehler and his followers there was no clarification for the visible aspects of the Church. The encyclical clarified these aspects. The mystical body concept was harmonized with the institutional reality of the Church. It was clearly stated that the Catholic Church is the mystical body of Christ. The encyclical pointed to the Pope and bishops as “joints and ligaments of the body” and asserted, “those who exercise sacred power in the Body are its first and chief members”. The lay people were considered helpers to ecclesiastical hierarchy in spreading the Kingdom of the Redeemer.
Much of the theology of the Church found in Mystici Corporis has been changed by LG. First of all it does not say that Mystical Body of Christ is coterminus with the Catholic Church. Secondly, although LG shows the distinction between Church as the hierarchical society and as body of Christ, the two are very closely related to each other, in a way comparable to the divine and human natures of Christ. The structure of the Church is seen as serving the Spirit who through his active presence builds up the body of Christ.
The people of God theme and the body of Christ theme can be seen as complementary themes in ecclesiology. In fact most of the modern theologians ask for a combination of the two themes. Schmaus, Philips, Ratzinger, Congar and Kueng agree in this regard. The people of God theme very well expresses the human elements that go into the making of the Church. But under what form does the people of God exist? To answer this question the body of Christ will show the way.
The specific character of the Christian Church is brought out by the name “Body of Christ”. It establishes strong links between the Church and Christ. It is appreciated by Schnackenburg saying that in the theology of the Body of Christ what is new, specific and unique in the Christian idea of the Church clearly emerges.14[ R.Schnackenburg, The Church in the New Testament p.176] The name “people of God is a common denominator to both OT and NT community of salvation. The NT community is the people of God that forms the body of Christ and exists as the temple of the Holy Spirit.” Some critics of the theme, body of Christ, see it as showing a static image of the Church. But it actually is used in Pauline epistles to point out the active role of every one in the Church. The criticism that it looks looks unreal and vague seems to be also unfounded. It is true that in history one finds sometimes overemphasis of differences in the body of Christ.
The body of Christ ecclesiology has many practical insights. It unequivocably asserts that the identity of the Church, of the Christian, is the identity of Christ. The idea of discipleship and ministry of each Christian comes in here. Realization of the fact that the members of the Church are organs of the body of Christ can inspire people to lend their service to the cause of Christ. The moving lines by Annie Johnson Flint tell us such an inspiration:
Christ has no hands but our hands
To do his work today;
He has no feet but our feet
To lead men his way;
He has no tongue but our tongues
To tell men how he died;
He has no help but our help
To lead men to his side.
We are the only Bible
The careless world will read;
We are the sinner’s gospel,
We are the scoffer’s creed;
We are the Lord’s last message
Given in deed and word—
What if the line is crooked?
What if the type is blurred?
What if our hands are busy
With other work than his?
What if our feet are walking
Where sin’s allurement is?
What if our tongues are speaking
Of things his lips would spurn?
How can we hope to help him
Unless from him we learn?
In the post-conci!iar era together with “the people of God” model, communion (koinonia) model stands as another imposing model for a theology of the Church. According to some theologians, if people of God is the basic ecclesiological idea of the Council, according to some others, “communion” forms the basic ecclesiological idea. Since Vatican II has juxtaposed many models, it is difficult to say which one is more important than the other.15 It is significant that the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in 1985, although not overlooking the idea of the people of God, showed its preference for the communion model. The reason was not because the idea of “people of God” was wrong but its reception was not in the way that was expected. It seemed to present a one-sided sociological description of the Church undermining the inner reality. The shift from “people of God” to “communio” was intended to effect a return to an integral understanding. For this purpose, “mystery” seemed to be too spiritualistic. Hence it was not used.
What is the meaning of communion as applied to the Church? The Church is basically a gathering of the people who participate in the life of God who is trinitarian. The participation effects a relationship between participants, and this is expressed as communion.16 All relationships and all activities among persons imply Communion. In the Trinity the missions of the Son and the Spirit are expressions of communion. LG, when speaking the Church points to “union with God and unity of the entire human family”. The idea here is communion. Communion ecclesiology is strongly rooted in the Bible and tradition of the Church. Keeping the limits of our enquiry, it is not possible to go into its Biblical sources. The idea of communion is closely related to the Eucharist where the salvific event is represented and remembered in celebration. Ekklesia is most real in Eucharistic fellowship. It is from the Eucharistic fellowship that the Church began to draw the basic elements of its ecclesiology. Each Eucharistic community formed a full-fledged Church according to the NT. We read in Acts about Church in Jerusalem, Church in Antioch and later Churches in Judea, Samaria, spoken of in the plural. Patristic tradition clearly gave expression to this when he said: “The Church consists of communio of the whole world”.17 This would imply that communion includes diversity. But there are common elements that bind together the different Churches. They are: 1. Confession of the same apostolic faith, 2, Participation in the same sacraments; 3. Common Christian life-style, life in the service of the kingdom of God; 4. Mutual recognition of pastoral leadership.
The Synod of Bishops, taking up a communion model ecclesiology showed that salvation begins from Trinitarian unity and it goes on to create the same unity in human sphere through Baptism and Eucharist. There is unity and pluriformity in the Church as in the Trinity. The monarchical and pyramidal structure of the Church is not acceptable because the source of the Church which is the Trinity is “communion” or “fellowship”. Only an unqualified monism or strict monotheism can lend support for a monarchical structure, which does not allow freedom for individual churches. The Synod of Bishops affirmed that the unique catholic Church exists in and through the particular Churches.”
The principle of communion has different levels of application: at the parish level, at the diocesan level, at the regional level and on a global level. It also finds expression in the collegiality of the bishops, body of presbyterate and in the people of God as a whole.
Communion reaches out to most real situations of life. It is no mere spiritualistic idea. The responsibility of ordering the economic and cultural life of the society is part of constructing stronger communion. To be a credible sacrament and true expression of communion there should be concern even for all the material aspects of human life. Serving the brethren who suffer from poverty, hunger, sickness or other reasons form indispensable aspects of full communion. The source of all communion, it should be pointed out is the Eucharist, which should not be understood narrowing down the concept to a liturgy alone. Vatican II cautioned such a danger when it said in SC: “The sacred liturgy does not exhaust the entire activity of the Church”. The Church is Eucharistic communion not only because it stands around the altar for liturgical celebration but also because it loves and serves, once it is dispersed. Eucharist is a privileged moment of communion. But the Church requires a communion under a third species also—that is, not merely in the transformed body and blood of Jesus but also in the species of those things that satisfy the physical and material needs of man.
The Episcopal Council of Latin America in 1979 already long before the Synod of Bishops, took up “communion” as a basic ecclesiological category and from Trinitarian and Eucharistic communion, they came down to concrete, socio-economic programme. Authentic communion should include the personal, social and institutional levels of human living, When Eucharistic communion does not reach up to these levels it falls short of its true dignity and worth. It should be also pointed out that communion expressed merely as interpersonal relationship of human beings and help to satisfy physical and material needs does not make true ecclesial communion. What is needed is integral communion.
“Pluriformity” is a new word found in the final report of Synod of Bishops held in 1985. The word is intended to convey the idea of legitimate differences among Christian communities. This notion has significant bearing in the Indian context. India is a land of diversity. Today and tomorrow, the Christian presence in this country has to be pluriform in nature. There are differences in customs and traditions of our various groups of people, various regions of our country and that will enter into the ecclesial identity also. In this context the plea for communion should find strong expression. The communion understood in all its aspects– Trinitarian, Christological, Pneumatological, Eucharistic, socio-cuJtural aspects– form a right model for ecclesiology. It can serve to highlight both the divine and human aspects of the Church. It shows that the Church is both in the level of its vertical relationship and in the level of horizontal relationship It can bring out the meaning of tradition and traditions, Church and Churches. Communion idea of the Church also can remain open to the world with the characteristic spirit of Vatican II, expressed in Gaudium et Spes.
Concern for the world was one of the important features of Vat. II. The reflection on the Church was to take place, according to John XXIII on two levels: First, as a reflection on the ”Church ad intra”. Secondly, as a reflection on the “Church ad extra”. If LG was the realization of the first, GS was the realization of the second. The ad extra reflection takes its origin from the openness of the Church to the world. For a long time in the history of the Church official attitude to the world was negative. This is very well pointed out with the example of “syllabus of errors” issued by Pope Pius IX in 1864.
“The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” conceives the role of the Church as service to the world. Here is a positive approach, which is not found very much in the history of the Church. The Pastoral Constitution says: “The Christians cannot yearn for anything more ardently than to serve the men of the modern world even more generously and effectively” (GS 93). Concluding the theological part of GS, Vatican II spoke about the ways the Church renders service to the world, to person, to community, and to human activity. As Christ was the man for others the Church should exist as community for others. This is the spirituality of the servant model Church assumes her humble position as “servant”. As a sign of that the word Church even becomes written with a small “c”.
The present model carries particular application in the context of a Church living in the midst of poverty, misery and injustice. The statement of Bonhoeffer is worth considering in this context: “The Church is the Church only when it exists for others. To make a start, it should give away all its property to those in need. The clergy must live solely on the free-will offerings of their congregations or possibly engage in some secular calling. The Church must share in the secular problems of ordinary human life, not dominating, but helping and serving”.19
The service of the Church is fully conceived only if it takes into consideration all the aspects of the Church’s mission which may be spelled out as: 1. Ministry of the word, 2. Ministry of worship, 3. Ministry of leadership, 4. Ministry of social apostolate, especially to the most needy. GS has pointed out assistance to people in their fundamental questions regarding life, suffering, death, belief as pertaining to the role of the Church (GS 10). Church is shown in GS: as related to various subjects Church and Human Rights, Church and Culture Church and Politics, Church and Liberation, Church and Socio-economic life. In all these related areas, as GS has pointed out, Church should render her service. Being in (a theology of the proposition “in”) the world means that all these things are important concerns of the Church.
The servant model cannot overlook the tension that exists between Church and the world. Therefore Congar would say that the Church is in the world, but it is not of the world. Involvement in the world does not take away the duty of evangelization. Church’s service to the world is ultimately a service to the Kingdom of God. The Church is the servant because it does not ecclesiastify the world, but rather lead the world to the Kingdom. Being in the world the Church has to operate within the structures of the world. The Church in the world should not build up many parallel structures. That means Church should not involve herself excessively in institution building. As Congar says “Christo-finalizing” should happen the world through normal channels of life would be the ideal.20
The “Servant” idea is biblically based. The OT tradition sees Israel as servant of Yahweh. Jesus in the NT is one who serves. But servant idea is placed in the Bible both in the OT and NT in relation to God primarily. In the NT service to the brethren occupies an important place. But this has to be understood in the context of the kingdom of God, rather than taking it in its own category. The Kingdom idea has received strong emphasis in all modern ecclesiolo-gies.21 When the Church is understood as the servant of the Kingdom, the servant-model acquires fuller significance. The servant model of the Church carries with it a spirituality of involvement, which should be accompanied by Christian virtues of humility, simplicity and sacrifice. It would make radical demands on individual Christians as well as on the Church as a whole.
Earlier we considered the model of the Church as the sacrament. In the place of the “Sacrament” the “Word” occupies a central place of importance in the present-model. God’s Word gathers and forms Ekklesia. The Church is called to proclaim the Word which it has heard and lived. Therefore the herald model could be called the “Kerygmatic model” which arises from an evangelical perspective. McBrien has summarily featured this ecclesiology of proclamation: “This mission of the Church is one of proclamation of the word of God to the whole world. The Church cannot hold itself responsible for the failure of men to accept it as God’s word; it has only to proclaim it with integrity and persistence. All else is secondary. The Church is essentially a Kerygmatic community which holds aloft, through the preached Word, the wonderful deeds of God in past history, particularly his mighty acts in Jesus Christ. The community itself happens wherever the Spirit breathes, wherever the word is proclaimed and accepted in faith. The Church is event, a point of encounter with God”.22
Historically, the herald model has come to be associated with Barth and Protestant tradition. Among all the modern theologians it is Barth who has given the greatest emphasis to the relation between Word and the Church. The Protestant Christianity has accused Catholic Christianity of giving undue insistence on the Church of glory. It makes a strong plea to see the Church under the sign of the cross in its present state, requiring, repentance and renewal. The Church cannot glory in herself because it still needs to listen to the word-The Church’s role is to proclaim as John the Baptist while acknowledging its own unworthiness.
The Church which is the “herald of the good news” is also understood here as one who is called by a herald. Therefore ekklesia here means both the process of congregating and the congregated community’ The herald model also places the Church on earth in clear distinction from the kingdom of God. Though nourished by the Word the Church is never a perfect Word-community. It is a community that is always in the process of becoming. It is faith, in response to the Word that makes this community. According to Barth the role of the Church is primarily religious He did not entertain an unqualified optimism regarding the world and man’s involvement in it. But Barth certainly moved to a positive and down-to-earth approach in his later years. He showed an evangelical spirit which made him say “No” to the “Nazis.2‘
The herald model of the Church carries a missionary thrust, which is to be appreciated. The model also fits into the prophetic tradition of OT and the missionary concern of the NT. This model can show very well the power of the Word as a corrective force to the Church. Not only that, if “Church as the herald” (of the good news) is understood in its broadest sense it can serve as a very practical concept. That means herald idea has to include in it not only announcing the good news, but also living the good news and fashioning a world of justice and peace in accordance with the demands of the Gospel. The social emphasis in the proclamation of the word is relatively new in the official teaching of the Church. Announcement of the Word of God is pointed out as the important duty in the documents of Vatican II. In fact the proclamation of the Word and listening to the Word certainly should become the most important aspect of ecclesial life. SC puts it very clearly: “Christ is present in His Word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the Holy Scriptures are read in the Church” (SC 7). DV speaks about “hearing the Word of God with reverence and proclaiming it confidently” (DV 1). This involves the fulfilment of a duty which will give birth to social order founded on truth built on Justice, and animated by love” (GS 26)
The models that we have brought above help us to explore the meaning of the Church. Certainly all models of the Church are not of equal value. Each of them enlightens us more on one or other aspect of the Church. The question that could be further asked is: “What is the basic model of the Church? Can there be basic model? In the post-conciliar theology two dominant models stand out: the people of God model and communion model. This is not to ignore the other models especially the Sacrament model or Body of Christ model, which are also of importance and are given in LG.
The people of God model has the power to inspire the Church to see its most important human constituents, namely, the people themselves. No one is insignificant in the light of this. Every one in the Church has his dignity and function in the Church. The role of the laity is easily brought to light in “the People of God”. Seen in the right perspective, the role of the hierarchy also is placed in clear understanding. Here hierarchy is seen as an organ of serving rather than domineering. “Hierarchy” exists for the people and not that “people exist for hierarchy”. It has been feared that “People of God” concept might cause the “Socialization” of the Church. If the second part of the appellation “People of God” is kept in sight, it can show that this people are a worshipping community, fundamentally related to God. Thus a proper understanding of people of God can forestall any “socialization” of the Church with the detriment to interiority.
The Church seen as “communion” also can serve to comprehend the values that are mentioned above in relation to the people of God.. Participation and fellowship of all the members form essential aspects of communion model. The communion model brings at once the “theological” and “anthroplogical” nature of the Ekklesia. Fellowship of human beings is rooted in the fellowship of the Trinity. The “communion model” has applicability to different levels of the Church. In that way it is also a very flexible and adaptable concept, which can bring diversity and pluriformity into one communion.
Models should come down to concrete pastoral situations. Otherwise they will be mere abstract models. Both the “People of God model” and ‘Communion” model call for changes and renewal in the organizational and structural aspects of the Church. The role of the parish yogam, parish councils, pastoral councils, etc. gains new meaning in the light of these models. Often pastors are not trained to work in the community, with the vision provided by the new models. Models once accepted should be made operative. Often on the ground that democracy is not the form of government in the Church, priests follow an authoritarian model which people know is not the right one, bypassing even the given structure which are there to guarantee an ecclesial style of life that gives participation to people. This way of acting alienates the members of the Church. Instead of playing their active in the Church people indifferent. Sometimes priests meet with violent reactions from parishioners because they have a very authoritarian behaviour or approach in their pastoral ministry. It is true that many conflicts today in parishes also arise from unecclesial values mainly coming from politics, The pastor has to guard the community from such dangerous influences which destroy communion and fellowship.
To conclude, models are important in ecclesiology. Once a basic model is chosen the contents and implications of other models should not be overlooked. A true pastoral approach should try to discover the insights and values given by each model, while at the same time holding on to a basic model which can serve as the guiding light to other models.
1 See A. Dulles, Models of the Church (New York 1974); B. Mondin, Le Nuove ecclesiologie (Rome 1980); R. Kress, The Church: Communion Sacrament, Communication (New York 1985); Rikhof, The Concept of the Chwch; R. Michiels “The Self-Understanding of the Church after Vatican II” Louvain Studies 14 (1989), pp. 83-107.
2 K. McNamara, Vatican II: The Constitution on the Church, (London 1968), p. 76.
3 De Controversiis, 2, lib, 3. cap, 3, vol. 2, (Naples 1857), p. 75.
4 Y. Congar, Lay People in the Church (Westminster 1964), p. 45.
5 A. Grillmeier, “The Mystery of the Church Commentary on the Documents on Vatican II ed by H. Vorgrimler (London 1967), p. 138.
6 H. Rikhof considers it difficult to define the Church because of this particular nature of the Church. See H. Rikhof, The Concept of the Church (London 1981), p. 206.
7. R. Michiels, “The Self-understanding of the Church after Vatican II” Lonvian Studies 14 (1989), p. 89.
8.Cf. Joel 2:28; Ezek 36:27; i Cor 3: 16-17; 1 Cor 12:2-4.
9 K. E. Untener, The Church-World Relationship according to the Writings of Yves Congar (Rome 1976), p 10.
10 A. Dulles, Models of the Church, p. 48.
11. K. Rahner S. J., / Remember. An Autobiographical Interview with Meinold Kraus (New York 19S5), p. 96.
12. J. Ratzinger Das Neues Volk Gottes (Diisseldorf 1970), p. 209.
13. Cf. 1Cor. 6:15-17; 10:17; 12:12-30, 31; Rom 12:4-8; Gal 3:26-28; Col. 1:18,24; 2:19; 3:15; Eph 1:22,23; 2:16; 4:12,16; 5:23; 5:30.
14. R. Kress, The Church: Communion,.., p. *9
15. H. Rikhof, The Concept of the Church, see Chapt. 1.
16. K. Me Donnell, “Vatican II… Koinonia/ Communion as an Integral Ecclesiology” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 25:3 (1988) p. 401 ff. Cf. Ibid., p. 406. Cf. also for an evaluation of communion ecclesiology of “Synod of Bishops 1985”, Concilium (Dec. 1986). Final Report of the Synod.
19 D. Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (New York 1967), pp. 203-204.
20 K. E. Untener, The Church-World Relationship, pp. 18ff.
21 Cf. H. Kueng, “The Coming Reign of God”, in Church (New York 1976) pp. 69ff; also J. Moltmann, “Church of the Kingdom of God” (Part 4 of Church in the Power of the Spirit. (London 1977). also L. Boff, Church, Charism and Power (London 1982); A. Dulles, A Church to Believe in (New York 1985), pp. 8-10.
22 R. P. McBrien, The Continuing Quest (New York 1970), p. 11.
23 H. Kueng, The Church p. 114
24 Cf. Roger L. Shinn, Man: the New Humanism, (New Directions in Theology Series VI), (London 1968), pp. 36-37.
Posted by Fr Nelson MCBS on August 2, 2012
In early centuries the Church was vividly experienced and believed in, but her nature was not analysed. Even in the great age of scholasticism there was no treatise “De Ecclesia”: none will be found in St.Thomas’ “Summa Theologica”. Such a treatise first appeared at the end of the Middle ages, but chiefly as a creation of Canon Law. Then came the reformation and the need to oppose the Protestant concept of the Invisible Church and to prove that the Roman Church was the only true one. To do this the idea of the Church as a “perfect society” was much developed, and a fully visible society – “as visible as the Kingdom of France” said St.Robert Bellarmine, the leading counter-reformation controversialist. Moreover, in discussing the nature of this society little was considered beyond its governmental aspect, and that was seen again in secular terms: those of monarchical government. Thus a sort of typical ecclesiology for the period from the 16th to 19th century grew up.
To sum it up:
– It was apologetic in approach.
– It defined the church as a “perfect society” understood in terms similar to those of a secular state.
– It was mostly concerned with the visible aspect of the Church.
– It spoke chiefly of the governmental side of the society.
– It explained that government in terms of monarchy.
The best way to show this ecclesiology from which the Second Vatican Council has now finally delivered us is to give an example. So, here is a brief summary of the “De Ecclesia Christi” of Cardinal Billot, 4th edition, 1921. Billot was probably the most distinguished and influential Catholic theologian of the first quarter of this century. His treaties has 870 pages, divided into three parts. Namely;
– The first part (267 pages) is straightforward apologetics. It proves that the Roman Catholic Church is true and all sects separated from her false.
– The second part is the most important; its 450 pages are devoted to the Church’s internal constitution. The first chapter is on the members of the Church (all the baptized except those cut off by heresy or schism.)
All the other nine chapters are on ecclesiastical authority: first in general, then the powers of order, of teaching, of jurisdiction. There follow 200 pages on the monarchical character of the Church and on the Roman Pontiff. Finally there are 13 pages divided between bishops and councils.
The third part considers the relationship of the Church with civil society, the two ‘powers’. Its first chapter deals with the error of Liberalism, the second proves that the State is (indirectly) subordinate to the Church, the third and the last speaks of the Church’s immunity.
Why go into all this? Because it shows us so clearly what is new in the “New Ecclesiology”. The old ecclesiology – the teaching of most manuals up till a few years ago – had a terribly juridical and rather secular view of what the Church is. One finds in Billot’s work no account of the people of God or even of the body of Christ; no reference to the sacraments other than the initiation of baptism; not concern with the laity or even with the priests except as ‘subjects’ for authority; no treatment of the Church’s mission, etc. The old ecclesiology appeared as principally concerned with power in the Church and then chiefly with that of the Pope. Bishops and councils between them got a bare 13 pages. The central thesis of the whole thing was undoubtedly ‘the Church’s monarchy as instituted in St. Peter’ even though Billot – unlike many theologians of his time did temper this by recognizing the existence of a true ‘college of bishops’. The old ecclesiology was not wrong in its chief affirmations; we cannot reject the visible hierarchical and papal aspects of the Church – but it was very one-sided.
In the forty years following 1921 ecclesiology has been in a constant state of change as the influences of Scripture, the Fathers and Liturgy have been growing, in place of those of canon Law, apologetics and comparisons with civil government. In particular we may note the following developments:
– The theology of the “Mystical Body” coming back especially in the years after 1925.
– The Lay Apostolate Movement, greatly encouraged by Pope Pius XI and Pius XII
– The theology of the People of God, coming in chiefly after 1940.
– A closer linking up of the Church with sacramental theology.
– The beginning of ecumenical contacts with non-Catholics.
The manuals of theology written or revised in those years often tried to bring in some of these new ideas (especially, of course, that of the mystical body after the encyclical of 1943), but on the whole they stuck to the old framework and you get some odd results as when the mystical body is mentioned indeed but in a ‘corollarium’!
The first text of the “De Ecclesia” to appear at the Council, that produced after much discussion by the Preparatory Commission and debated during the last week of the first session, did much of this.
Many new ideas appeared here and there but the general impression was still strongly of the old point of view in its order, its stresses and its terminology. The bishops strongly criticized it as too heavily institutional and juridical. Although not specifically rejected by the Fathers it was clear that this draft was not acceptable, and it was almost entirely rewritten by the Doctrinal Commission between the first and second sessions.
This new draft (B) was an enormous improvement. It was very carefully discussed in the second session and a great many further amendments and additions many of them of the first importance, were proposed. It was also decided to add two further chapters, one eschatological, the other Marian. This resulted in a further extremely careful writing or rewriting of the various parts; these were prepared in a number of sub-commissions which included many of the most distinguished international theologians. The new draft (now eight chapters) was sent out to the Fathers in July, 1964. Further small but significant amendments had still to be made to it during the third session and in that form it was finally voted on and approved.
Let us compare the order of the three chief drafts by chapter divisions.
Presented in Session I Presented in Session II Presented in Session III
8. The role of Mary in the mystery of Christ and the Church
IT MAY BE NOTED THAT:
– The original text clearly what we may call ‘Billot’s general order and approach’ while inserting some new sections in what seems a rather arbitrary way.
– However, text A did already include many ideas of the ‘New Ecclesiology’, e.g. the terms ‘people of God’ and ‘body of Christ’ appear at once in c. l. ; lay people were given a separate chapter which speaks of the universal priesthood.
– Yet the ‘old approach’ was still too clear: four different chapters were devoted to the organs of clerical authority, while the tone of the actual text was in many places very juridical.
– The later texts have put everything that was to be said about the ‘hierarchical ministry’ into a single chapter (a long one).
– The final text develops the idea of ‘God’s people’ before speaking of the hierarchy.
– The Church’s spiritual and invisible purpose, ‘holiness’, appears clearly in the later texts.
– ‘The Laity’ were treated after religious in the first text before them in the second and third.
– The traditional chapter on the two ‘potestates’ (powers) ‘Church and State’- is simply left out in the later texts; other matters such as the Church’s missionary character, which appears in the first text as a sort of ‘corollarium’ are integrated into the general treatment; on the other hand quite new themes (especially concerning invisible aspects of the Church) make their appearance.
– The term ‘militant’ falls out; the term ‘pilgrim’ comes in.
– Already this brief analysis of Chapter headings shows us quite a lot about the way thinking on the Church developed during the Council. But to understand that development properly what we must examine is the text itself of the final constitution, for, the whole ‘new theology’ of Christian life in the church is really to be found within its chapters.
DOGMATIC CONSTITUTION ON THE CHURCH
A Brief Commentary
Chapters 1 and 2
I. Ecclesia a.1. Introduction: the Council intends to set
de Trinitate forth the nature of the Church
a. 1-4. a.2. the Father’s work.
a.3. the Son’s.
a.4. the Holy Spirit’s.
of God’s gift
a.5. Jesus’ preaching of the Kingdom.
a.6. Images of the Church:
sheepfold, flock, olive tree, vineyard;
building, temple of God, holy city;
bride of Christ.
II. Aspects of the mystery
a.5-8 a.7. the body of Christ.
a.8. a visible, hierarchial society; but one of
service not of power.
III. Nature of the people
a. 9-12 a.9. constituted by the new covenant with
Christ as head.
a.12. prophetic character, including charisms.
IV. Relationship a.13. universality of the people.
with the human race. a.14. fullness of incorporation.
a.13-17. a.15. separated Christians.
a.17. the mission of universal
The conciliar documents, like papal encyclicals, are to be known by the first words of their latin text, and so special care was presumably taken to make these significant. The words LUMEN GENTIUM which open the constitution on the Church appeared with the 1963 text. That of 1962 began AETERNUS UNIGENITI PATER, rather reminiscent of Vatican I’s PASTOR AETERNUS. The words LUMEN GENTIUM look outwards and stress the universal mission of both Christ and the Church. They are an implicit quotation from Isa. 42:6, but ‘gentes’ here of course no longer means the gentiles in opposition to Israel but simply all the peoples of the world. We may be especially glad that this phrase entitles the Council’s greatest document not only because of its missionary significance but also because it was a phrase very dear to Pope John, and was used as the key words of his radio message to the world on 11 September, 1962, just before the Council opened. It is Christ who is the light of the nations, but his light shines through the Church.
Common theme of these two chapters:
The first two chapters of the constitution stand together, providing a rich basic theology of the Church. In draft B of the document the order followed was: c.1, Mystery of the Church; c.2, the Hierarchy; c.3, the People of God and the Laity. But it was pointed out in the second session that the term ‘People of God’ includes the whole Church, the hierarchy as well. Laity and hierarchy are divisions within God’s people, and therefore a study of the People of God must come before one of the hierarchy. PEOPLE OF GOD, in fact, is an important name for the Church, while the hierarchy is a ministry within the Church (or rather, those performing that ministry). We have to see the Church as a whole before we speak of a ministry within her. Hence a chapter on the People of God was placed before that on the hierarchy.
The matter of c.2 might in fact have been merged into c.1. It was kept apart both to stop c.1 from becoming too long and then because of a certain difference of approach: c.1 deals more with the divine, c.2 with the human side of the Church’s nature. The Church on earth is a gathering of men by God: he forms and gives this gathering its special characteristics. So, in studying the Church’s nature, there are two aspects to be considered – that of the gift, and that of those who receive it. Roughly speaking, c.1 deals with the first aspect: the Church’s mystery as a gift of God; c.2 deals with the second aspect: the human community, the people of God. But the two sides are so completely inter-involved that not only is there of course no division between them, but even a distinction should not be pressed.
The very existence of these two well-developed chapters on the Church’s general nature, placed before any treatment of the hierarchy, is the first and possibly even the most important contribution of the constitution to our understanding of the Church. Never again will others be able to say that we seem only to speak about the governmental side of the Church; in the past that was often almost true. From now on it cannot be. In these two chapters on the nature of the Church there is no detailed mention of the hierarchy at all. The body of the Church is described, and only when that has been done does the constitution go on to speak in detail of the ministry within the Church.
Note that each of these two chapters is fairly clearly divided into half, as in the summary above; if the four units are seen as such a study of the main lines of thought will be greatly assisted.
Chapter – 1:
The essence of the Church is very finely expressed in a.1. The Church is the sacrament of UNION WITH GOD and of unity among men. That is where we start from – not a juridically conceived ‘perfect society’ but ‘union with God’, of which the Church as we know her is the sacrament, that is to say the visible sign and embodiment.
Union with God means union with the three persons of God, Father, Son, Holy Spirit. The Church is indeed DE TRINITATE. In order to gather men into this unity of God, the Father sent the Son in whose life and especially in whose death and paschal sacrifice the Church is inaugurated. It is in the eucharistic sacrifice and sacrament that what Christ did then is continually expressed and made effective for us: in this way the unity of men, the body of Christ, is brought about. But it is the Holy Spirit who continually vivifies, sanctifies, and rejuvenates the Church of God: Christ provides the ‘shape’ of the Church, the Spirit the breath of life.
This opening section is concluded with the fine sentence: ‘Thus the universal Church is revealed as “a people brought into unity from the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” (a.4). These four opening articles really provide an exquisite summa of essential ecclesiology and deserve deep meditation.
a.5 provides an extension of a.3: the historical work of Christ especially in terms of the kingdom. The meaning of the kingdom is not easy to express precisely. The kingdom of God is the fullness of humanity’s service of God. Preaching the kingdom, Jesus inaugurates the Church, and the Church is continually bringing the kingdom nearer to realization, but the two cannot simply be identified – at least until the end of time.
In a.6 we find the presentation of a wide variety of scriptural images for the Church. Drawn from the life of the countryside and the common trades they can be specially valuable for catechetical work in non-industrialized societies. The images given in a.6 could very well form the basis for a course of sermons. Note that the ‘body of Christ’ in a.7 is not given simply as another image. This title cannot be put on the same level as the images previously referred to, as it has a deeper and more precise theological meaning.
In a.8 for the first time we meet the word ‘society’. The Church is indeed a visible society. We live in a visible world. Christ was a visible man and the divine communion he came to bring, which has been described up till now, must take a visible and social form. It involves the gathering of men in a human society which requires leadership, etc. like other human societies. Therefore the divine fellowship, the body of Christ existing in the visible world, must take the form of a visible society, the earthly (hierarchical) Church. The identity of the two was stressed in Pius XII’s encyclicals MYSTICI CORPORIS and HUMANI GENERIS; it is repeated here, but in a modified form. The single Church of Christ cannot be simply and absolutely identified with the one visible Roman communion, for the Council recognizes important ‘ecclesial elements’ separated from the latter. The visible Church as sacrament (manifest and effective sign) of union with God is one and exclusive, but what it signifies extends beyond its visible frontiers. Hence, whereas draft B stated unequivocally ‘This Church is the Roman Catholic Church’, the final text declares ‘This Church SUBSISTS in the R.C. Church’. The implications of this tiny verbal modification may be very great.
Chapter – 2:
a.9 is a fundamental one. The PEOPLE OF GOD is the Councils characteristic name for the Church. Note that the description of the people starts with the fact of the covenant. The Church is God’s new people. Why? Because Christ instituted a new eternal covenant in his blood of cross and Eucharist. We cannot understand this term ‘people of God’ without the covenant idea: the historical agreement whereby a group of men are made into God’s chosen people.
God’s people is ‘a kingdom of priests’. Until recently we have greatly neglected the truth of the priesthood of all the faithful, so stressed by Lutherans. Here it is called the ‘common priesthood’ as distinguished from the ‘ministerial priesthood’ of holy orders. Note that both are sacramental in origin and expression and, of course, that all ministers share in the common or universal priesthood. This is a real participation in Christ’s Priesthood, and it is actuated in the whole of the Church’s worship centred upon offering the Eucharist, to which every Christian is called.
The final paragraph of a.11 speaks of the universal vocation of Christians to perfect sanctity; it anticipates the theme of c.5.
Besides the priestly and prophetic gifts which are common to all the christian people, there are many other special one to this person or that which are given by the Holy Spirit for the good of the Church. These are called ‘charisms’’; some may be remarkable others very simple. They are to be welcomed by the hierarchical ministry, but their genuineness and proper use may require testing.
Articles 13-17 must again be seen as a unit. The key to all five is the initial sentence: ‘All men are called to belong to the new People of God’. The whole section works out the implications of this statement. The picture of God’s people is one of an ever richer diversity in unity as the universality of its vocation is little by little realized through historical growth. Catholics in a state of grace and the communion of Rome are fully incorporated into the unity of the one people, but non-Catholic Christians too are joined to it in many ways – by baptism and the Scriptures and faith and the Holy Spirit: a.15 must, of course, be studied with the Decree on Ecumensim. Non-Christians as well (Jews, Muslims, everyone) are positively related to the one people in one way or another, for all God’s sons have been called to membership of the new people. Nevertheless here and now they still lack much; to give it to them and so achieve the desired fullness missionary work is absolutely necessary. This is not a valuable extra in Church life. On the contrary: “Proclaiming saving truth to the ends of the earth’ expresses the very purpose and being of the Church and without it the Church would not indeed be here self. Only thus can we bring to achievement the Catholicity and unity of God’s people: all humanity fully within the one Church, and the one Church fully diversified with the variety of mankind.
Notice that we have said ‘Roman Catholics in a state of grace are FULLY incorporated into the one people’. Draft B of a.14 had declared that ONLY Catholics are REALLY incorporated into the Church (‘Reapse et simpliciter…illi tantum’); this was a repetition of the words of the encyclical MYSTICI CORPORIS (‘Reapse illi soli’). But the Fathers preferred to replace the above words with ILLI PLENE. Full membership, to the mind of the Council, furthermore implies not only fulfilling the external conditions of belonging to the Roman communion, but also includes possession of the Spirit of Christ: ‘Dead” members cannot be ‘full’ members. If Catholics are incorporated into the ‘full communion’ of the visible Church, non-Catholic Christians are truly but not fully members of the visible communion. This does not PER SE limit their sharing in the fellowship of faith and love which is signified, but at the sign level at least their communion with the great Church is not complete. This is an important advance on earlier official teaching.
This beautiful treatise on the Church ends as it began, with the three persons of God, from whom (in a.1) our eucharistic communion and mission comes and to whom (a.17) it returns. The universal mission must bring about a universal Eucharist-in the prophetic words of Malachi, ‘In every place there is a sacrifice’-that in this way ‘the fullness of the whole world may pass into the People of God, the Body of the Lord and the Temple of the Holy Spirit, that in Christ, the head of all things, all honour and glory may be rendered to the creator, the Father of the universe’.
Chapter 3 HIRARCHICAL MINISTRY:
1. Introduction. a.18. purpose of the chapter
I. Its origin a.19. the apostolic college.
a.20. bishops are the apostles’
successors by divine institution.
a.21. entry through consecration-the
fullness of Holy orders.
2. The Episcopate II. Its nature a.22. the Episcopal college and the
Position of its head.
a.23. mutual relations of bishops;
world missionary responsibilities
III. Its work a.24. the ministry in general.
a.25. teaching, and ecclesial infallibility
a.27. pastoral rule.
a.28. the priesthood.
3. Lesser Orders a.29. the diaconate.
Chapter 3 is the longest in the constitution. Certain points in it were discussed very extensively and finally formulated with great precision, but it would be a mistake to limit the significance of this chapter to those points. The chapter as a whole is very rich in its teaching. Its general characteristics are as follows: It is clear in the New Testament that Christ entrusted the direction of His Church to the twelve as a body, a collective unit, and they acted as such in the early days described in the Acts. To them was given full authority: Peter was one of the twelve , their leader. He could not act except as an apostle because that is what he was; but he was not merely their president. What was given to the Twelve collectively, was explicitly given to him individually. The one fullness of authority bestowed by Christ was given both to the college and to its head – they not being their collective whole without him, while he in principle acted always as leader of the Twelve.
Peter’s primacy was passed to the popes; the apostles’ ministry to the bishops. Catholics have never doubted that. What has not been so clear is that bishops have not merely succeeded individually to a limited charge, but also collectively to the universal one-to a real shared responsibility for the whole Church. It should have been clear, of course, because it was implied by the whole long history of ecumenical councils. What this chapter now teaches us is just how the character of the Church’s ministry has remained, as it was in apostolic times, collective-cum-individual. Papal authority is no less than Vatican I defined it, but it looks rather different when seen as the divinely planned headship of a continuing college.
It will take time to shape the Church’s concrete institutions effectively according to this new vision of collegiality. We can say in fact that the administration of the Church in the last two or three centuries has been rather un-collegial: instead it has been over-centralized and curial. Pope Paul’s establishment of the Synod of Bishops in 1965 and its first meeting in October, 1967, is a step in the direction of a regular, practiced collegiality, though of course Pope John’s calling of the Council itself was the first great modern recognition that the Church really needs collegial leadership.
The old ecclesiology frequently described the Church as MONARCHICAL. Neither the word ‘monarchy’ nor its adjective appear anywhere in the constitution. We may judge that they are not really very suitable words for our subject, for two reasons: firstly, the concept of a monarchy is too different from that of a college, whose head has indeed a quite unique authority, but of which he is still a member. Secondly, ‘Monarchy’ is a too secular term, brought in from comparison with civil government; its use was rather characteristic of the general secularization of ecclesiology after the fourteenth century. Some people today are saying ‘Monarchy is out; democracy is in’. That is not the sense of the constitution. These terms fit the government of civil states, but neither really suits the Church, though doubtless they can both in some way be used of her. “Hierarchical’ is a more helpful word, just because it is not used so characteristically of civil society, and because its general sense is not in itself precise. To describe what sort of pattern the Church’s hierarchical ministry takes, we may now use the word ‘collegial’. But its precise meaning is to be ascertained from revelation, not from secular parallels: it signifies that unique balance, first existing between the twelve apostles and their leader, now perpetuated in the permanent pattern of the Church’s ministry.
a.18. Note again the immediate stress on pastoral ministry and service in the opening paragraph. The job of the hierarchy is ‘to serve its brothers’. This theme is taken up again later, especially in the last para of a.20, in a.24, and in a.27 where its repetition balances and softens the juridical statement that bishops have proper, ordinary and immediate ecclesiastical authority.
The purpose of the Council here is to follow up Vatican I, proclaimed the ministry of the pope, Peter’s successor and the visible principle of unity in the Church, by speaking of that of the bishops, the successors of the apostles. Most of a.18 (except the first paragraph) is in fact taken word for word from Vatican I.
At the end of a.20 comes the first of the particular truths which the Fathers wished to state definitely in this chapter and around which their earlier discussions had centred: ‘Bishops have by divine institution taken the place of the apostles as pastors of the Church’.
In a.21 comes the second precise point of teaching: ‘The fullness of the sacrament of Orders is conferred by Episcopal consecration’. This fullness includes not only the ministry of sanctifying (i.e. the power to administer certain sacraments) but also that of teaching and ruling. The ‘high priesthood’ of bishops, as received in their consecration, implies this whole circle of work, being a true presentation amid the faithful of the high priesthood of Jesus Christ himself. It cannot be seen, then, as simply a gift of ‘orders’ to which jurisdiction may be added, even though its actual exercise does require subsequent (normally territorial) delimitation to be settled by the Episcopal college or (as generally at present) its head.
Note that almost nothing is said about whether bishops have specifically sacramental functions (e.g. ordination) absolutely proper to them, that is to say which other priests cannot perform: only episcopal consecration itself is mentioned: it is for bishops to consecrate other bishops. Even here, however, an earlier text which read that ‘only bishops can admit…. was modified to say simply ‘it is for bishops to admit’. The sacramental fullness of the episcopate is not to be seen, then, in terms of some isolated sacramental powers but as the sacramental imparting of a total office and function in the Church.
a.22 gives us the heart of the doctrine of Episcopal collegiality and merits especially careful reading. (The authoritative comment entitled the NOTA PRAEVIA and attached to the constitution at its end bears especially upon the interpretation of this article). As Peter and the apostles formed one apostolic college, in a similar way the pope and the bishops form one Episcopal college. Membership of this college depends on consecration AND hierarchical communion with its head and members (a consecrated bishop could exclude himself or be excluded from the college on account of failure to co-operate in the work of the hierarchical ministry). Both the college and its head permanently possess the fullness of Church authority, but the college is not meaningful without its head and cannot act without at least his approval or concurrence.
a.23 deals with the continuous ‘collegial’ aspect of a bishop’s work-his extra-diocesan responsibilities of one kind and another, including that of helping missionary work; a bishop is by his nature not only a minister for the communion, he is also a minister for the mission.
a.25 is another long and important one. It presents a summary of doctrine on the Church’s magisterium. The first section deals with the ordinary non-infallible teaching authority of bishops and pope; the second part with infallible authority seen both in the universal episcopate and in the pope.
What should be particularly noted are the following two points:
The stress is on ECCLESIAL infallibility, on what the Council calls’ the Church’s charism of infallibility’ present both in the pope and in general council. Whereas draft A, having spoken of papal infallibility, went on to say that the definitions of a general council enjoyed the same infallibility as those of the pope, the final text stresses that ‘the infallibility promised to the Church’ is present in the body of bishops as in the pope. This is in fact in strict line with the way of speaking of Vatican I.
The text twice stresses the relationship between the infallible teaching authority of the Church and the deposit of revelation. The former extends as far as the latter and is ruled by it. It is very important to be clear about this because there have been tendencies to interpret the Church’s infallible authority as extending far beyond revelation, and this was indeed proposed also in draft A.
a.26-27 speak of other sides of the bishop’s work. Note that every bishop is called a ‘vicar of Christ’; also that the meaning of a bishop’s office is expressed in terms of a local church centred upon the Eucharist.
The last two articles (28 and 29) speak of the ministry of priests and deacons, who also form part of the Church’s divinely instituted hierarchy and share in almost every side of the bishops’ ministry. Let us note that the general pattern of collegiality is seen as applying to the particular church (the diocese) as well as to the universal Church. The priests of the diocese form, with their bishop, a sort of sacerdotal college, a single PRESBYTERIUM, which does not limit the bishop’s authority but indicates the way his ministry should be mediated to his whole flock across the co-operation of his co-workers. The old idea of a ‘monarchical episcopate’ is as misleading as that of the monarchical papacy.
Article 29 quietly indicates what brings about a further revolution in the ministry in coming years. For long the DIACONATE has been no more than a stage in seminary life. This article points out its real purpose in the service of the people of God, and of how many functions – at present in practice reserved to priests – deacons can carry out. With the present growing shortage of priests, it would be most valuable in many countries to have a permanent diaconate restored, but as it would surely be difficult to find many unmarried men for this work the Council envisages the ordination of married men as deacons in the future.
As with priests, bishops, the pope himself, their ordination and status will be for the service of God’s people, the building up of the body of Christ. (For further treatment of collegiality see the decree on Bishops).
Chapter 4 THE LAITY:
a.31. What we mean by laity.
a.32. Their ecclesial character in general.
a.33. Their apostolate in general.
a.34. The laity share in the priesthood of Christ.
a.35. They share in his prophetic office.
a.36. They share in his kingly power.
a.37. Co-operation with the clergy.
Note that this chapter on the laity is linked very closely both with c.2 (they were originally joined together) and with the decree on the lay apostolate where, of course, its practical implications are developed.
In a.31 the meaning of the word ‘laity’ is considered under two aspects:
NEGATIVELY – all the faithful who are not in the hierarchy or religious orders.
POSITIVELY – the laity are those of the people of God who have a properly secular character, their normal activities being the activities of the world. Whereas the characteristic activity of the clergy derives materially from the nature of the Church, the characteristic activity of the laity derives materially from the nature of the world, of ordinary human society . Both must equally seek the kingdom of God.
a.32. The laity are full members of the body of Christ, of the people of God. Variety of functions in the body causes no inequality in essentials; what unites clergy and laity is of far greater importance than what distinguished them. What unites them is Christian brotherhood in grace and a common call to perfection; what distinguishes them is diversity in service and function. Note how here as in a.30, the theology of the laity grows naturally out of the doctrine of the Church as the body of Christ: the unity of many diverse members.
The basic sense of the lay apostolate is established in a.33. The laity have an apostolate because they are laity. They share in the mission of the Church just because they are living members of the people of God; appointed to this mission by the very fact of their consecration in baptism and confirmation. In the past the lay apostolate was sometimes defined as ‘the co-operation of the laity in apostolate of the hierarchy’. This was not a good definition. The hierarchy have an apostolate proper to them and so have the laity. The lay apostolate comes primarily, not from a special offer to do part of the hierarchy’s job for it, but from the obligation of every baptized Christian to share actively in the mission of Christ. Evidently many laymen are called over and above this to join in the apostolate of the hierarchy, and this work may be very important. But basically the lay apostolate is precisely that apostolate which is proper to laity as laity, i.e. as Christians not sharing in the hierarchical ministry.
a.34 is really a repeat of a.10 – 11, and a.35 in part of a.12. They were inserted when the old chapter on ‘the People of God and the laity’ was split into two and the former sections dealing with the priestly and prophetical aspects of Christian living were carried to c.2.
However a.35 adds some special stresses on the most characteristic lay aspects of implementing Christ’s prophetic role. In many circumstances evangelization, witnessing to Christ, can be done only by them; moreover, at the very heart of human life-the family – it is for married people to be witnesses of Christian faith and give love to one another and to their children.
Laymen have a special function in the carrying through of the royal work of Christ (a.36). This work entails the re-ordering of the earth and of human society so that across the attainment by the terrestrial city of human culture, distributive justice, personal freedom, the light of Christ will be manifested and creation enabled to give greater glory to God. But all this work belongs principally to the laity – the ensuring that the kingdom of Christ is advanced not only by the progress of the Church but also by the progress of the world.
a.37 earnestly advocates a truly active co-operation between clergy and laity, even though its style remains rather clericalist. While all Christians have a duty of respect and obedience in Church matters towards their pastors, they have also a duty of free action and personal responsibility. What is required is a two–way traffic. Suggestions, initiatives, criticisms, if given in the right way, are needed from the laity who, when competent, must be ready to speak out and act with confidence and courage. The health of the Church depends upon mutual trust and sharing of responsibilities between hierarchy and laity.
The whole chapter stresses the outward-looking side of the Church. In Pope Paul’s words ‘the Church is for the world’. Now this world-serving character of the Church is born especially by the laity. It is in a way for the clergy to serve the laity, the laity to serve the whole human society. This theme of course is developed in the constitution on the Modern World and in the decree on the Lay Apostolate. The present chapter is the link between the constitution on the Church and those other more obviously ‘outward-looking’ documents. The layman, it concludes, must be the sacrament of the living God before the world. What the soul is in the body, let Christians be in the world.
‘The apostolate which deals with the temporal order itself and seeks to imbue it with a Christian spirit is normally the special responsibility of the layman, so that in this task he has a larger role than the cleric, whose first responsibility is that of preaching the word of God and dispensing the divine mysteries. In the relation of the faithful to the Church hierarchy the principle of subsidiarity should be followed…..This means that those things which parish priests can do by themselves should not be taken over by the bishop’s curia, and just as those things which – leaving the hierarchical structure of the Church intact-can be done by bishops or bishops’ conferences should be left to them, so also those things which the layman can accomplish on his own initiative and responsibility should not be taken over by the clergy, always with the proviso that the hierarchical structure of the Church is preserved’. (From a council speech of Bishop Hoffner of Munster).
Chapters 5 and 6 HOLINESS:
5. The universal call to holiness a.39. the Church is holy with the holiness of
Christ, her spouse and head.
a.40. all her members are called to share in this
a.41. every condition of life has its own way to
a.42. but the heart of holiness for everyone is love.
6. The particular call through the
religious life a.43. definition of the religious state: a stable way of
life embodying the evangelical counsels.
a.44. personal and ecclesial reasons for its existence
a.45. relation to ecclesiastical authority.
a.46. relation to human society.
History of the text:
The 1962 text of the constitution followed the order: bishops, priests, religious, laity; and the chapter on religious was entitled ‘the states of perfection’. As we saw, in the course of the council this order was changed. The hierarchy – laity division is basically part of the essential structure of the Church, and should therefore be treated first. Religious, on the other hand, as the constitution states, are really divided between hierarchy and laity: some belong to one group, some to the other. Their special state can be better understood when the positive characteristics of both hierarchy and laity have been explained. Hence the 1963 text adopted the order: hierarchy, laity, religious. However, the last chapter was given a quite new title, “The Vocation to Holiness in the Church’, and its first section spoke briefly of that vocation as universal’. The passage ‘Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect’ was quoted, and as referring to all men. Its second section then spoke of the particular vocation to religious life, still described as the ‘state of perfection’.
This was not the end of the story. As a result of the discussions of the second session, further drastic alterations were undertaken. Among them we may note: (a) The section on the universal vocation to holiness was greatly enlarged, ceasing to be little more than an ‘opener’ to a treatment of religious. It had become the most striking part of the chapter. (b) All reference to the ‘state of perfection’ (or ‘state of acquiring perfection’) was dropped from the text of the section on religious, as (previously) it had been dropped from the title – though traditional, it is a misleading term, for all men are called to perfection, not just religious; equally in this life no one attains it. The term had a juridical rather than a theological meaning. (c) This second section now stresses the ecclesial and eschatological significance of the religious life.
Questions still remained, however, on the dividing and placing of this matter. Should it continue to form a single chapter, or be divided clearly into two? Again, many urged that now a fine section on the universal vocation to sanctity had been written, it was in fact in the wrong place. It should not follow the chapters on the hierarchy and the laity and precede that on religious; it should precede all these chapters and be linked with that on the people of God. The order would then have been:
The People of God.
Its vocation to sanctity.
In principle this might well have been the best and most logical plan. However, it would have involved a very big rewriting of many sections of the constitution at a late date, and would also have cut in half the treatment of matters which were really linked together in the two sections of this chapter. It was agreed therefore to retain the existing order, while inserting in c.2, a.11 a brief paragraph pointing forward to c.5 Secondly, it was decided (by a general vote of the fathers in the third session, 30 September, 1964) to constitute these two sections as two separate chapters. This division shows the importance of the religious life for the Church as a whole, and that surely corresponds to the facts of the case. Many fathers had feared that, with the new stress on the universal vocation to holiness, there was a danger of minimizing the significance of the religious vocation. They felt that a separate chapter would counteract this danger. The chapter as finally written shows this significance as a truly theological ore; the religious state, as canonically established in the church, constitutes a sign-a visible human embodiment-of the deep things of spiritual life and of the other-worldliness of the Church of God.
The Church is essentially holy, as we affirm in the Creed. This holiness is of God, not of men. She is holy because Christ, her lord and her head, has made her holy. Being a member of her necessarily means being called to share in this holiness; one cannot be a Church member and not be so called. Though given by God, the holiness of the Church will then be manifested in the lives of her members. Called to grace in baptism and faith, all Christians must develop in their lives the holiness they have received from God. This chapter really offers a very fine SUMMARY OF CHRISTIAN MORAL THEOLOGY-of a morality wholly informed by love. God is love; being given his life means being invited to love and to grow up into a fullness of charity-love of God, love of one’s fellow men. For bishops and priests this takes a predominantly pastoral form; for married people a faithful commitment to the family, for workers, for the disabled, for every group and every individual person the holiness of love takes on its special form. It is a pity that the sentence in a.41 referring to the widowed and the unmarried from this point of view is so very weak. In fact the treatment of the variety of people described in a.41 on `the forms and tasks of life` is very over-weighted on the clerical side. This is a point where the Council`s intended width of view did not quite come across in the form of words used. But anyway the whole of the preceding chapter was really concerned with the holiness of the laity and the principle is here: diversity of human life and character combined with unity in the transforming love that comes from God to be the very life and purpose of the Church. One and all we are called to `the pursuit of perfect love`.
Christ gave his disciples both counsels and commands. There is no clear distinction between them, but Christian writers and ecclesiastical tradition concentrated on three of the former as the foundation for a special life of detachment from the world and christened them `the evangelical counsels`-virginity, poverty, obedience. In fact there are many counsels in the New Testament, though obedience is not clearly among them. The vows are means approved by the Church as of special value upon the road to holiness; but the counsels are elements in Christ`s teaching which concern the whole Christian community, and are therefore spoken of in c.5 and not only in c.6
Nevertheless the exteriorization of the counsels in a clearly visible form has an importance of its own for the Church. And that is what has happened. Historically they have been embodied in various `stable ways of life`, proper to different religious orders and societies, whose membership can be most helpful for attaining the full supernatural end of man; sound teaching, a fraternal communion, the continual harmonizing of freedom with obedience, fidelity to vowed resolutions-all these things can help man greatly on `the road of love`.
A chapter on the religious life in a constitution DE ECCLESIA must, however, necessarily consider it not so much from the personal viewpoint as from that of the strict ecclesial significance of this particular form of living. The immediate purpose of the profession of the evangelical counsels is two-fold: to cut away hindrances to the service of God and to be consecrated positively and wholly to that service. Now, for the baptized, the service of God has always to be given in and across the life of the Church. Christian spirituality is personal, but personal IN THE CHURCH. The ecclesial sense of religious profession can be summed up in three points: Firstly, it is an explicitation and affirmation, by a most deliberate human action, of the baptismal consecration of this Christian and of every Christian; by it the fruit of the original consecration can become more abundant. Secondly, it is a visible sign of the Church`s nature-both of her bridal union with Christ and of her `other-worldliness`. The Church transcends the needs and aspirations of the earthly city. True religious manifest this transcendance in their lives. Thirdly, it is made effectively fruitful for the whole Church by the kind of life and work proper to each institute: prayer, teaching, nursing……No religious society may be `useless` as regards the life of the whole body, but this does not mean that each society must undertake external apostolic activities. Contemplatives are at least as ecclesially fruitful as active orders.
In the past there has been an age-old rivalry between `seculars` and `regulars` between the local diocese and its authority and the `exempt` international religious society. Councils have traditionally been an occasion for bishops to try and bring EXEMPTION to an end, by imposing Episcopal authority upon the local members of a religious order. This Council witnessed something of the kind but like previous attempts it was largely rejected. The need for exemption is restated in a.45. As a matter of fact, if members of religious orders have often seemed uninterested in the pastoral needs of the local church, members of the secular clergy have often seemed uninterested in the wider missionary and intellectual needs of the universal Church. The solution of such rivalries and misunderstandings is not to be found in a chance of legislation, but rather in a greater awareness upon both sides of the fullness of the body of Christ and the variety of its needs. Religious societies must indeed be willing to share in the life and work of the local church under the authority of its bishop, but the general good of the whole Church requires too wider organizations which could not function without some measure of canonical exemption of congregations from local authorities.
There is a paradox in religious life which parallels and indeed reflects a paradox in the Church`s own nature-the linking of retreat from the world and from some ordinary human patterns of living with the SERVICE OF THE WORLD and of human society. In the nature of the Church one may say that laity and religious manifest opposite aspects: the function of the lay state is the service of God within the pattern of the most normal human life and the consecration thereby of the human city to God; the function of the religious state is the renunciation of much normal human life and the erection of a sign that the Church believes in another world and that `the people of God has here no lasting city` (compare a.44 with a.36). Nevertheless any individual Christian, in either state, has to live the fullness of the Christian vocation, not just that side of it which is symbolized by his state: thus the layman needs to practise supernatural hope, the religious must reach spiritual maturity across a truly human development. Each state has its own temptations to be avoided, related to an unbalanced grasping of its own particular ideal. Hence (in a.46) the Council stresses that the religious life, when accepted and lived in the right way, is opposed neither to human maturity, nor to spiritual freedom, nor to the service of human society. On the contrary. It is because the Church is essentially other-worldly that she can so disinterestedly and fruitfully serve this one. The religious life must be the visible sign of both these things. The more fully religious live the meaning of their vows, the more effective will be their ministry among their fellow men. In it the Church wishes to portray, in a specially manifest way, Christ and his ministry.
Chapter 7 LOOKING TOWARDS HEAVEN:
A chapter on this theme was explicitly asked for by Pope John, but it only materialized late in the council’s deliberation. In fact there was no discussion on c.7 in general congregation until the third session. The text had only been prepared in theological commissions in the course of that year, 1964, and it was little changed in the third session, except for some substantial additions in a.48. The fact that it did not elicit much controversy does not lessen its importance in helping to provide a really full picture of what the Church is.
Its aim is not to describe the Church in heaven or in purgatory, so much as to show how the pilgrim Church on earth is journeying towards heaven and remains united with those who have gone before us to pass from earth to purgatory or the contemplation of God. We are ‘seeking the city which is to come’, the condition of the Church as we know it is essentially temporary; we are on our way to something perfect and eternal. This chapter is concerned with the whole vista of the ‘beyond’ and our relationship to it – a beyond whose fall pattern is future and collective: a ‘renewal of all things’ with the manifest perfecting of the universe and the whole human race under the kingship of Christ.
Concern with all this is what we mean by ESCHATOLOGY-a key word in modern theology and scripture interpretations: the doctrine of the last things.
Eschatology deals then with the ‘last things’: death, judgement, hell and heaven. However, if we compare the eschatology which we find in the scriptures (located chiefly in Matt. 24 and 25, 1 and 2 Thess., and Rev.) with the usual treatises of theological manuals on this subject we cannot help noticing that the former is much more collective in its concern, the latter individualist. The manuals lay more stress upon the individual’s judgement and eternal reward in heaven or punishment in hell; the scriptures the ‘last times’ of the world, the collective judgement, the full establishment of the kingdom of Christ, the new heaven and the new earth. In fact the initial draft constitutions, sent to the bishops, before the Council began, included one on the deposit of faith which had a chapter devoted to the ‘last things’. This was very much akin to the approach of the manuals, an individualistic approach; it included a lengthy section on the punishments of hell. This draft constitution never, in fact, got discussed at all, but the last things reappeared two years later in our c.7, but now with an altered approach.
It is vitally important in eschatology to balance the collective with the individual, and the future with the present. It is this that c.7 tries hard to do. A teaching on the ‘last things’ cannot be silent upon the fate of the individual: the judgement that follows death, the states that can follow judgement-and a.48 speaks explicitly of all this. Nevertheless the fate of the individual, to be understood aright, must be seen within the context of the fate of the body to which he belongs. What this chapter shows so finely is that a treatise ‘on the last things’ must be an ecclesial treatise, that the body of Christ itself has a future and a final condition. The beatitude of the individual only makes full sense within the context of the wedding feast of the Lamb and his bride, the new Jerusalem. Moreover, the new Jerusalem is not only the Church perfected, but also the world. Eschatology is a doctrine about the cosmos: all things must be renewed.
Every aspect of the pilgrim Church must be seen in the light of the heavenly Church, not as two parallel organizations, but as sign and reality, or as that which is in process of becoming and that which it will finally be. However, if this is a relationship between present and future, it is also true that it involves a relationship within the present, because the heavenly Church does already exist. Many missions of members of the body of Christ have passed out of the state of wayfaring into that of glory and the Church on earth shares their active communion. This is the difficulty in eschatology: it is dealing both with the final state of completeness when the pilgrim Church will no longer exist and the whole of creation is reformed in Christ, and with the already arrived heavenly state of the holy dead and of their relations with the still existing pilgrim Church. Hence eschatology refers both to the future and to something already realized in the present, and concerns both the collective fate of Church and world at the end of time and the individual fate of the human person whose span of earthly pilgrimage is short and quickly over.
All this is difficult, but eschatology is notoriously difficult. Nevertheless the Council refused to leave it aside, and we cannot either. The above considerations should help in understanding the themes which have been brought together in this brief but beautiful chapter so full of scriptural passages and liturgical references. Let us note too that the eschatological aspect of the Church is not confined to this chapter; it is woven into the whole constitution- for example, in the last sentences of a.2, 8 and 42 (see also L.a.8, MW. A.39, etc.). Furthermore a.44 suggests the eschatological significance of the consecrated religious life and a.68 that of the Virgin Mary: she is the sign offered in hope to the pilgrim Church of how the final perfection will be.
While a.48 is more concerned with the future, a.49 and 50 treat chiefly of the earthly Church’s present communion with the Church beyond the grave. If the visible Church is a human society with ministry and sacraments, all this is a sign of the wider communion of all who are of Christ and share his Spirit. This ultimate communion is one of charity and worship: we love and we glorify God.
The union of the pilgrim Church on earth with the Church in heaven has then the following characteristics.
It is a UNION OF MUTUAL LOVE. The saints are our friends and co-heirs in Jesus Christ, and their example shows us the way to grow in perfect union with Christ.
It is a UNION OF MUTUAL PRAYER. We on earth pray for and to the dead. We pray to the saints that they may pray for us; we know very well that they have no power outside Christ to hear or help us, but we know too that we and they form one body in Christ, that it is a body of mutual concern, and that this is what our head desires.
It is a UNION IN LITURGY. Just as the whole constitution teaches that the life of the pilgrim Church is centred upon the Eucharist, so this chapter emphasizes that the union of the earthly and heavenly Churches is above all a liturgical one, and that it is in the celebration of the Eucharist that we are most united with the saints when we are most fully offering worship to God (cf.L.a.8). For this reason the treatment of the subject is closed in a.50 with the words of the Roman canon.
The point of a.51 is pastoral. Having stated the doctrine of the communion of saints (for which see also L.a.104), the Council recognizes that in fact there have been abuses whereby the cult of the saints has become almost disengaged from its essential Christological and ecclesiological context. In reaction some have tended to deny all point to prayer and communion with them. The Council wishes such wrong attitudes to be corrected: a truly Catholic sense of union with all the blessed should rather excite in us a still greater determination to praise and glorify God both now and for ever in the heavenly Jerusalem.
Chapter 8 VIRGIN AND MOTHER:
History of the Text:
Chapter eight is entitled ‘The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God in the mystery of Christ and the Church’. As other parts of the constitution this text stands at the end of a lengthy evolution, but one of its own. In 1962 the Fathers were given a draft text for a dogmatic constitution on ‘The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of Men’. This text (A) was never debated but was reissued in April, 1963, with a new title-‘The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church’. In the second session, when the second text of DE ECCLESIA was being extensively discussed, it was proposed that no separate document should be produced on Mary, but instead that a chapter devoted to her should be included in that constitution. It was argued that this would better show Mary’s organic place within the pattern of redemption. Others argued strongly to retain a separate Marian constitution as more in line with the various Marian developments of the last century. The bishops voted on the question on 29 October, 1963. By 1,114 votes to 1,074 it was decided to speak of her within the DE ECCLESIA.
A new text was therefore needed, which would fit in with the rest of the constitution. A theological sub-commission, representing both tendencies, set to work and in March, 1964, after four previous versions, brought forth a fifth (B) which they judged satisfactory. Very little of A remained in it. B was then considerably revised in June by the Doctrinal Commission to produce C. Then B and C were together dispatched to the bishops and C was discussed at the beginning of the third session. Some further changes were made, to give us D, the final text, which was approved almost unanimously.
Clearly, the very considerable difficulties encountered in producing this text arose from the existence of two contrasting attitudes in the Church with regard to Mariology. One point of view is more plainly Mariological, in an evident way. It has rejoiced in the increasing number of Marian definitions, declarations, feasts and congresses of the last hundred years, and it hoped for a further notable ‘advance’ in Marian teaching from the Council.. For years this body of opinion has been concentrating on the title ‘Mediatrix of all graces’ and it expected the Council to produce a constitution firmly enshrining this idea.
The other point of view is more closely linked with the biblical, liturgical and ecumenical movements. It has urged the return on all sides of the Church’s life to a more scriptural and liturgical way of viewing things, and it has wanted to apply this also to Marian teaching and devotion. It has argued that while everything in Modern Marian developments and expression may be capable of theological justification, yet the impression given is still very different from that of scripture and the liturgy, and that a good deal of popular Marian devotion has been clearly unbalanced. The need today is not so much to advance as to deepen and purify Marian devotion. Moreover this point of view has stressed ecumenical considerations. Protestants are very suspicious of Mariology. Every Marian ‘advance’ seems to them to dig a new ditch between us and them. The opportune thing for the life of the Church today is not then to press Marian doctrine to all its logical conclusions, but so to express it in such a scriptural and traditional way as to commend it to all non-Catholic Christians.
Both these points of view have full right to exist when the Church, and of course many people would hold a bit to both. Nevertheless clearly two opposing tendencies have been present and it was the Council’s duty to produce a statement which, so far as possible, would prove satisfactory to all important bodies of opinion. That it managed to obtain an almost unanimous final vote, after a practically fifty-fifty division one year before, is a measure of the balance of this chapter and also, surely, of docility to the guiding of the Holy Spirit.
Clearly the basic decision to include a Marian text within the Church constitution had to be adhered to and this naturally determined the general treatment to some extent. It was decided to make of it the final chapter. This seemed the natural place. The other chapters have a certain internal cohesion, leading up, in c.7, to the vision of the heavenly Church. c.8 relates to this in two ways. Firstly, it is clearly related to c.7. Much of what is said there about the saints in general applies in a special way to Mary. Paragraphs in c.7 on their position in the Church, intercession and cult prepare the way for comparable ones in c.8. Secondly, this last chapter somehow sums up the whole constitution. May as the type of the Church bears within her all its varied characteristics. Having treated of them in the life of all Christians in the preceding chapters, the constitution concludes by showing them in her who most perfectly fulfilled the Church’s whole vocation in faith, charity and obedience.
It is explicitly stated in a.54 that the Church did not intend to say EVERYTHING about Mary or to rule out all approaches or ideas not appearing in the constitution. It does appeal for balance and the awareness of ecumenical needs, but its aim is not to condemn those who would like to express their love for the Virgin Mary in rather different terms. The freedom which the Council has called for in so many other fields surely applies here too.
This chapter offers a broad, rounded teaching about OUR LADY. There is certainly no minimizing tendency. It speaks of all the chief aspects of Marian doctrine and draws them together in a simple but beautiful synthesis. Never before has a council of the Church offered such an extensive or profound statement upon the position of Mary in the plans of God.
The tone is nevertheless very MODERATE and restrained, though no less devoted for that. There is nothing here to jar on the ears of non-Catholics unless, of course, they are rather uncritically anti-Marian. It is interesting to see that there is no single reference in text or notes to St Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Alphonsus Liguori or St. Louis-Marie De Montfort, the three great Marian writers of the post-patristic period, some of whose expressions nevertheless seem to some a bit extreme or overemotional.
Instead the text is extremely SCRIPTURAL and PATRISTIC. References to the early Fathers, both Greek and Latin, abound and so do quotations from the New Testament, beginning with a brief but basic Pauline text. Every effort has been made to show that Marian devotion is not-as critics have maintained-ainti-scriptural.
It is clearly shown how Marian doctrine and devotion fit into a completely CHRISTO-CENTRIC scheme of things. In no way can Mary detract from Christ`s work or from the closeness of the union of Christians with him. On the contrary she manifests just how perfectly a simple human being can be united with her saviour.
It is ECCLESIAL. This indeed is its most striking positive characteristic as of course befits a chapter within DE ECCLESIA. A rediscovery of patristic doctrine on the deep relationship of Mary and the Church has been a key aspect of modern scientific Mariology. In the fullest way we here see Mary standing in all her glorious humility both in and for the Church.
Finally, as has been indicated, there is a deep ECUMENICAL PREOCCUPATION running through the text and stressed explicitly in a.67. Everything is to be done to help other Christians see the truth about Mary. That should be the great Marian `advance` of our time: not a new doctrine but the rediscovery by all believers of her place in the redemption. Eastern Christians already venerate her most devoutly (a.69), as do very many Anglicans` and growing number of other Protestants. We should pray that the teaching of this chapter will help to increase their number still more in years to come . In the past, as a matter of fact, Marian devotion has been a cause of division. Instead we must make it today a cause of unity.
POINT OF DOCTRINE:
The central doctrine concerning Our Lady is shown to be the divine maternity. All else follows from this that she was `the Mother of God` (a.53) and that she freely accepted to be so: she gave her assent to the World of God, committing herself whole-heartedly to his will in faith obedience (a.56). The constitution stresses her faith: she did not understand everything but unhesitatingly she `advanced in her pilgrimage of faith` (a.58). Just as in philosophy we find that AGERE SEQUITUR ESSE, so in theology it is universally true that the more we receive God’s grace, the more we share in the giving of it. Mary` s singular adherence to God` s will made of her a singular sharer in her Son` s work of giving divine life to all men. The fullness of her personal acceptance permitted a fullness of active co-operation and made of her truly the mother of men, especially the faithful (a.54, 60-62)
A word here must be said about the title `MOTHER OF THE CHURCH`. It does not appear in the constitution. It was part of draft A, especially with its revised title, but had no place in B or C. However, in one of the final changes of the third session an addition was made to the end of a.53 which in some way hints at this title without quite using it. At the clost of the third session, 21 November, 1964, Pope Paul proclaimed the Virgin Mary ‘Mother of the Church, that is to say of all the people of God, of the faithful as well as of the pastors’. It is clear that a majority of the fathers preferred not to use this title in the constitution, doubtless because in itself it is rather untraditional. On the other hand the pope was perfectly free to make use of it himself if he saw fit; it is clearly only the phrase, not the idea, which is untraditional. That Mary is the MATER FIDELIUM is most traditional, and ‘the faithful’ is only another way of saying ‘ the People of God’. Now that we are stressing the human side of the Church and that ‘the People of God’ is a highly fitting name for the Church, it is clearly the same thing to say ‘Mother of the faithful’ and ‘Mother of the Church’. Pope Paul stressed this way of looking at it by repeating twice ‘the Church, that is to say the people of God’. Mary remains a member of the Church, just as the mother of a family remains a member of the family. That the mother of Jesus is the mother of all his brethren is simply the full meaning of John 19: 26-7.
Type of the Church:
Mary is the type of the Church. For many Catholics this may well be the most striking affirmation of this chapter. It is stated explicitly in three separate articles (a.53, 63, 65). It must be understood within a whole developing context. First of all, in her full acceptance of the word of God, Mary represents humanity itself. She is ‘the daughter of Adam’, the new Eve, as many of the earliest Fathers of the Church asserted (a.56). Representing all humanity in its passive need for God and potential active acceptance of his gift, she specially represented the chosen people of God, the children of Abraham, who had been prepared for the coming of the saviour. She is not only ‘daughter of Adam’ but ‘daughter of Sion’ (a..55), faithfully accepting the promise made to her fathers.
The Church is the new Sion the new Israel. Mary is a member of both the old people and the new, and she represents both. Her undeviating faith and charity, her virginal surrender to God of her whole self, her fruitful motherhood, her presence at the foot of the cross: all this typifies the Church, virgin and mother. Mary’s life on earth perfectly represents the life of the pilgrim Church, and her life in heaven perfectly represents the final fullness of the celestial Church after the resurrection of the dead. God chose to manifest the character of humanity’s acceptance of his Son not only through the multiple community of the redeemed but also through the example of a single historical personality, who typifies the perfection of the whole in the more easily understood career of one individual. And for this he chose his mother.
In this way the constitution treats of Mary’s position less in terms of static privileges than as a dynamic sharing in the history of salvation.
a.62 touching on Mary as mediatrix ( or mediator) was undoubtedly a focal point of argument. Some fathers were much in favour of proclaiming Mary mediatrix of graces, others were equally opposed to it. The history of the texts is significant. A included a strong section on the subject including the title ‘Mediatrix of all graces’. Text B omitted the word entirely. C put it in a very restrained sentence. Finally, in the third session, it was retained but joined with the title of ‘advocate, helper, benefactress’ which takes away from a technical sense. Furthermore, a new paragraph (‘No creature could ever….’) was added at this last stage to prevent any possible misunderstanding in the use of the title.
This extra paragraph is in fact an important one for it expresses very clearly the principle of the active co-operation of the redeemed in every aspect of the redeemer’s work. We all share in his priesthood (mediation and priesthood are, moreover, very closely connected concepts), we share in his kingship, we share in his redemption – not only in receiving, but in giving. Mary is not unique in this role. It is part of the Christian vocation, But she is unique in the fullness of her response to it.
The concluding section of the chapter refers first to the liturgy and pastoral requirements of Marian devotion. a.66 and 67 can be compared with a.51, the point being the same: not emotion or vain credulity but solid faith and a special care to avoid scandalizing separated Christians. Finally the Council proclaims Mary as a sign of hope and comfort for the pilgrim Church. As the Church is the sign of salvation lifted up among the nations, so is she a sign within the Church: a sure sign of how faith is fulfilled in beatitude, of the perfection to come, of the final transformation of humanity in the light of Christ to the glory of God.
‘In the Blessed Virgin the Church learns to love the concrete and the limited: a basic antidote to pride’– (Cardinal Silva papal legate to the 1965 Mariological Congress).
‘You should concentrate on a deeper understanding and love of the mysteries of Mary rather than on theological extensions which are questionable and lead to division rather than union ……You must restrain unbalanced and not very enlightened sentimentalities….You should encourage a serious and living devotion which moves within the great coherent framework of the liturgy’ (Pope Paul to the Mariological Congress of San Domingo, 1965).
Posted by Fr Nelson MCBS on August 2, 2012
Dr George Karakunnel
“This holy Council first of all turns its attention to the Catholic faithful. Basing itself on scripture and tradition, it teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and baptism (cf. Mk. 16:16; Jn.3:5), and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it, or to remain in it.” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, no.14)
“Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with as sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation. Nor shall divine providence deny the assistance necessary for salvation to those who, without any fault of theirs, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God, and who, not without grace, strive to lead a good life.” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, no.15)
The answer is “Yes” but that’s the easy part. Explaining why it’s “Yes” is more difficult. Because the Church is the Body of Christ, it embodies the presence of Christ and carries on his redemptive work for all of humanity. In that sense, the Church is indeed necessary for salvation, that is, in the same way that Jesus Christ himself is necessary for salvation. But does that mean that only those who profess faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior can be saved?
Jesus himself gave us the beginning of an answer to both questions when he said. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven. But only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matt 7:21). Confessing the Lordship of Jesus, therefore, isn’t in itself sufficient for salvation. But even if it’s not sufficient, is it absolutely necessary? Later in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel Jesus narrates the parable of the sheep and the goats in which he implies that many who enter the kingdom of heaven will not even have been aware of the Lord. Rather, they will only encounter the Lord anonymously, as it were, in the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, and all others in need.
Catholic belief and teaching about salvation, therefore, is that no one is saved apart from the redemptive work of Jesus Christ on behalf of all humanity, but that it is possible to be the beneficiary of that redemptive work even if one does not confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, which means even if one is not a member of the Church, Catholic or non-Catholic.
That wasn’t always the understanding of the Church’s role in salvation, however. In the first three centuries the saying. “No salvation outside the Church”, was used exclusively as a warning against Christians who had separated themselves from the Church by heresy or schism. Historians have found no instance where that same warning was issued against the pagan majority in the Roman Empire. It was only after Christianity became the official religion of the Empire in the fourth century that the saying began to be applied to Jews and pagans as well. The naive assumption was that, by this time, the Gospel had been preached to the whole world. Those who still had not accepted it were culpable and, therefore, heading for damnation. This was the view associated especially with Fulgentius, bishop of Ruspe, in the sixth century, and it remained standard Catholic teaching for almost a thousand years. The Council of Florence in 1442 used Fulgentius’ formula in its own teaching. With the discovery of America, however, only fifty years after Florence, it became clear that the world was much larger than had been thought. There were still many thousands – perhaps millions – of people who had never heard of Jesus Christ. Only gradually thereafter did the hard-line teaching of Fulgentius and others yield to a broader, more ecumenical view of salvation outside the Church.
At first, a distinction was made between members of the Church in re (that is, actual, baptized members) and members of the Church in voto (that is, people of good will who remain outside the Church through no fault of their own). All those who are saved because of some relationship with the Church, whether in re or in voto. The Second Vatican Council went a step beyond that position. It recognized in its Decree on Ecumenism that non-Catholic churches are a “means of salvation’, although “they derive their efficacy from the fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church “ (n.3). The council also recognized in its Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions that the “Catholic Church rejects nothing which is true and holy in these religions” (n.2). Salvation, brought by the different religions as the Church understands, is related to the one economy of salvation under Jesus Christ. This is the present day inclusivist approach which replaced a rather exclusivist approach of the past.
Does the Church, then, play any necessary role at all in the salvation of the world? Yes, says the Council, it is the “universal sacrament of salvation” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, n.48; Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World). Not only are all people related to the Church by the grace which the Holy Spirit offers them, but the Church itself is a sign and instrument of their salvation. And that is the newer, more ecumenical, more universal meaning of the traditional saying, “No salvation outside the Church”.
Posted by Fr Nelson MCBS on June 23, 2012
Among the 16 documents of Vatican II, the first one discussed and passed in the Council was the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Liturgy is said to be the ‘heart’ of the Church. So much so, the ‘quality’ of an Individual Church can be determined, to a great extent, by observing the liturgical celebration of her members because the Church is basically a worshipping community.
After the Council, the Church in India took a leap forward with the “Church in India Today” seminar held at NBCLC, Bangalore in 1969 to find out the ways and means to implement the Council documents. One of the documents which drew pointed attention of the participants of the seminar was the constitution on liturgy. Among all the 22 Catholic Individual Churches, the Syro-Malabar Church is perhaps the only one which took bold steps to renew the liturgy. This renewal movement was spearheaded by Cardinal Joseph Parecattil who believed that the Syro-Malabar Church should be ‘Indian’ in worship. Among the then Syro-Malabar Bishops, Archbishop Jacob Thoomkuzhy was one who whole-heartedly supported the Cardinal to go forward with the reform process ‘indianizing’ the liturgy. Though the Cardinal’s initiatives were helpful to create a new awareness about the need of liturgical reform in the Syro-Malabar Church in the light of the conciliar document on the sacred liturgy, there was also opposition to his move from various quarters. Therefore, the reform process gradually slowed down, heading towards a standstill.
Vatican II and Liturgical Reform
The thrust of Vatican II regarding the liturgical reform can be concisely summarized as “restoration, revision and adaptation”. The Council declared that the Church wishes to preserve all lawfully recognized rites and foster them in every way, and also that the rites be revised in the light of sound tradition in order to meet the needs of the modern age (SC 4). The Council gave some directives also to achieve this aim.
In the liturgy, the Council observes, there are unchangeable and changeable elements. Not that the latter may be changed, but ought to be changed if they have become less suitable for today. In this process, one of the principles to be followed is that liturgy is understood by the faithful with ease and that they can take part in it fully, actively and as a community (SC 21). SC 34 which says that the rites should be simple, short, clear and free from useless repetitions, is one of the golden principles of Vatican II. Another basic principle is regarding the need of inculturation. The Church is open to admit into the liturgy what is not superstitious or erroneous in the way of life of the people and their culture (SC 37).
Conciliar Reform and Reception in the Syro-Malabar Church
One of the stumbling blocks in the reception of the conciliar constitution on the liturgy in the Syro-Malabar Church is the (mis)understanding about the very process of restoration, revision and adaptation. According to some, revision and adaptation should take place only after completing the restoration of all liturgical texts. It would mean that the Syro-Malabar Church should fully restore and use the ancient Syriac texts, may be translated into modern languages, without much change. On the other hand, the vast majority in the Church preferred to give greater emphasis to revision, adaptation and inculturation . Of course, no Church can revise its liturgy without restoring it first. But this should be, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger observes, only for “recovering the lost values”. In other words, our primary concern should not be ‘What was the liturgy like then?”, but “What ought to be done today?” to make it meaningful and relevant to the people of today.
‘Pastoral realism’ is important in any reform. This has been always a crucial concern of the Syro-Malabar Church. This idea was endorsed also by the Roman Congregation for the Oriental Churches. “The good of the faithful ( ‘bonum fidelium’)”, the Congregation noted, “is the pastoral norm governing all liturgical legislation”. The right and duty to resolve concrete pastoral issues in the liturgy belong to the diocesan Bishop, said an eminent Oriental liturgiologist, Prof. Robert Taft, addressing the Syro-Malabar Bishops in the Synod held in the Vatican in 1996. The steps taken by Archbishop Thoomkuzhy in the realm of liturgy were influenced by this pastoral attitude. Therefore, he told the Syro-Malabar Bishops: “Liturgiology is a very comprehensive discipline like linguistics. We have, however, to be extremely wary of liturgical reforms, conceived by scholars who perhaps do not have direct contact with the pastoral realities”. Further he said: “There is no divergence of opinion among the (Syro-Malabar) Bishops or others with regard to essential matters of faith or morals. Often it is concerned with certain rubrics, clarity, simplicity etc. They are more of a pastoral nature. It should be noted that these pastoral exigencies do not have a uniform pattern all over the Syro-Malabar eparchies”.
Another issue which continues to be discussed in the realm of Syro-Malabar liturgical reform is the meaning of “organic growth”, and consequently, the understanding of ‘tradition’ and ‘traditions’. According to Vatican II, in the process of liturgical renewal new forms adopted should in some way grow ‘organically’ from forms already existing (SC 23). In the words of Pope John Paul II, tradition is not an unchanging repetition of formulas, but a heritage which preserves the original core. The Instruction of the Oriental Congregation observes that “No Church, Eastern or Western, has ever been able to survive without adapting itself continuously to the changing conditions of life”. This is so because history is not simply the past, rather it is the contemporary understanding of life in terms of its origin and evolution as seen through the prism of our present concern. Therefore, Pope John Paul II told the Syro-Malabar Bishops in 1980 that the liturgical reform must be based on “fidelity to genuine ecclesial traditions and open to the needs of the faithful, to the culture and to possible changes by way of organic progress”.
About ‘tradition’ and ‘organic growth’ Archbishop Thoomkuzhy has this to say: “First of all, there is no agreement as to what the genuine traditions are and what are not. Secondly, there is the difference as to which traditions we have to return and which traditions are to be reformed”. Further he observes that in the process of organic growth in the liturgy, there can be influences not too consonant with its original structure. Unless they are too essential for the salvation of souls it does not seem to be worth going back to the original state.
In this context, it is good to note an observation made by Robert Taft. “It has been my constant observation”, writes he, “that liturgies do not grow evenly, like living organisms. Rather, their individual structures possess a life of their own. More like cancer than native cells, they can appear like aggressors, showing riotous growth at a time when all else lies dormant”.
The above observations are relevant when we consider the reception of the conciliar reforms in the liturgy of the Syro-Malabar Church. The restored texts of the Syro-Malabar liturgy – Divine Office (1938), Holy Qurbana (1957), Pontifical (1958), Propria (1960), Calendar (1960)etc. – belong to a period prior to Vatican II. Of these only the holy Qurbana underwent slight modifications in 1962, 1968, 1985 and 1989. The revised text of the Sacraments was published in 2005. The other texts are to be published in the coming years.
Despite the earnest efforts of the Bishops, there still persists a complaint that the revised texts are not sufficiently adapted and inculturated. Liturgy is always subject to reform. The most consoling aspect of the ‘liturgical crisis’ in the Syro-Malabar Church is that there is no difference of opinion about the fundamental and essential aspects of the liturgy. As Archbishop Thoomkuzhy rightly observes, the divergence of opinion is only about certain rubrics, clarity, pastoral concerns etc. Vatican II, the Popes, the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, the Oriental Congregation and the Syro-Malabar Synod of Bishops have on various occasions laid down principles and guidelines in order to restore, revise and adapt liturgy for the ‘Church of today’. Adaptation to local needs is all the more urgent today since the Syro-Malabar Church is fast spreading to various countries, especially to Europe, America and the Gulf. An unprejudiced openness towards new pastoral realities based on fundamental principles of liturgical reform will help us to be relevant and useful for the people living in diverse circumstances. The steps taken by Archbishop Thoomkuzhy throughout his episcopal ministry have indeed this mark of pastoral realism.
 The Ratzinger Report, p.38
 The Ratzinger Report, p.132.
 Directives of 1988, No.2
 Acts of the Synod, p.133
 Acts of the Synod, p.98
 Acts of the Synod, p.109
 Orientale Lumen, No.8
 Instruction of 1996, No.11
 Roman Documents, Kottayam 1999, p.65
 Acts of the Synod, p.94
 Acts of the Synod, p.95
 How liturgies Grow? p.360
Posted by Fr Nelson MCBS on June 23, 2012
Vatican II describes the ministerial priesthood as a participation in Jesus’ mission. “Priests are consecrated in the image of Christ, the eternal High Priest, to preach the Gospel, shepherd the faithful and celebrate the divine worship as true priests of the New Testament” (LG 28). It is said that a Christian community is judged by the liturgy it celebrates. For, the liturgy of a Church is an index of that particular Church’s inner dynamism.
To have an effective liturgical celebration, according to Vatican II, people have to participate in it ‘consciously, devoutly and fruitfully’ (SC 48). Every word and gesture in the liturgy has a meaning. Unless this meaning is understood, liturgy becomes a hollow ritual, and consequently, it is felt to be a boring experience.
When we examine the history of liturgical celebrations, we come across three ‘deviations’, so to say, from the focal point of celebration. The first is making the word of God a concatenation of human words by unnecessarily long homilies or shared view points on the biblical passages. The second is the clericalization making the liturgy a ‘performance’ of those who are in the sanctuary. And thirdly, the anachronistic imperial paraphernalia which obfuscated the simplicity of the original celebration.
In the patristic golden age the Fathers like Ambrose, Gregory Nazianzen, Augustine and Gregory the Great have written treatises on clerical life. But, most of them are on the ethical and pastoral aspects. A book of the patristic age specifically on the priesthood is that of St.John Chrysostom and it deals above all with the celebration of the Liturgy. According to him, the ministerial priesthood is something unearthly since the priest makes Christ present to us in the Eucharistic sacrifice. In Christian liturgy the ordained persons are considered to be an access to the divine. Though many symbolic roles of the priests are influenced by the Old Testament priesthood, the origin of Christian priesthood is Jesus himself. The early Christian commentators of liturgy are unanimous in considering the priest acting in persona Christi in the liturgy.
This article is an attempt to identify the various roles of the priest in the liturgical celebration and his ministry in personal Christi.
A ‘liturgist’ is one who celebrates liturgy. Hence every priest is a liturgist. (The one who ‘teaches’ the ‘science of liturgy’ is a ‘liturgiologist’). Any liturgical celebration becomes effective, to great extent, depending upon the ‘liturgist’. Therefore, the pastors of souls must realize that when the liturgy is celebrated, something more is required than the laws governing valid and lawful celebration. It is their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing and actively engage in the celebration so as to be enriched by it (SC 11). Pastors should carefully apply requisite pedagogy so that the faithful actively participate in the liturgy (SC 14). Unless the priests themselves become fully imbued with the spirit and power of the liturgy and become capable of teaching people about the meaning and value of it, Vatican II observes that “it would be futile to entertain any hope of realizing the goal of conscious, active and fruitful participation of the people in the liturgy” (SC 14). In fact, a priest is ordained, among other things, to celebrate “devoutly and fruitfully the mysteries of Christ for the praise of God and the sanctification of the Christian people”.
The Cultic Ministry of the Priests
The cultic dimension of priesthood began to be emphasized already from the second century. By the end of that century, we observe a connection between episcopos and presbyter with hierus, sacerdos and pontifex. Eventually liturgy, especially the Eucharistic celebration, began to be stressed as the characteristic mark of priesthood. The cultic understanding the priesthood was further emphasized by the Council of Trent. The later theology, especially after Vatican II, which gave due emphasis to the prophetic and leadership roles of the priest has not caught the attention of the faithful in general, and to a certain extent, even that of the priests themselves. The ordination rites also give the impression that the priest is mainly ordained for cultic service. The actual pastoral situation also attaches greater importance to priests’ sacramental role than other functions. This paradigm shift began sometime in the 4th century when Christianity became the official religion of the Roma Empire. Soon the liturgical interpreters of both East and West began to give allegorical interpretations to the cultic acts, comparing the celebrants to the heavenly hierarchy of the angels and making then ‘channels’ of grace.
According to the uninterrupted teaching of the Church a priest has three functions: Prophet, Priest and Servant. This is reiterated in Vatican II (LG 28; PO 4-6). But, which function constitutes the ‘essence’ of priesthood? In the history we find theologians giving primacy to one or other function of the priest. Pope John Paul II was one who advocated primacy of cultic and sacramental ministry. “If the Eucharist is the centre and summit of the Church’s life, it is likewise the centre and summit of priestly ministry. For this reason, with a heart filled with gratitude to our Lord Jesus Christ, I repeat that the Eucharist ‘is the principal and central raison d’etre of the sacrament of priesthood, which effectively came into being at the moment of the institution of the Eucharist”.
Thus, whether one likes it or not, the fact is that the cultic ministry of the priests continues to be of primary importance. Hence it is imperative that this role is effectively carried out by the liturgical celebrants.
Liturgy as Ritual Action
Liturgy is not simply a prayer, but a ‘rite’. It has a ritual language which goes beyond the language of words and texts. In order to implement this language of rituals, a proper church building is necessary because liturgical acts take place in space set up for the same. The celebrant should know how to make use of this space. The liturgical space does not depend basically upon the ‘tastes’ of the celebrant or the people. Instead, it is arranged according to the needs of the celebration such as procession, incensing etc. The sanctuary, altar, ambo (bema), choir, place for preparing the gifts (beth-gazza), baptismal font and the nave (hykla) are some of the elements of this space. Only when the celebrating assembly is obedient to the specification of space, can the symbolic communication through the ritual act take place. The communication scholars inform us that more than half of our communications is non-verbal. At times the non-verbal communication in the liturgy is more powerful than the verbal. A careless celebrant who has scant attention for the rite is, in fact, symbolically calling into question the content of the celebration.
A liturgical rite is a human action in which man apprehends himself as religious being. It is an action in which he feels that he is sharing in the divine activity, that is, “an action which God performs through and in man, as much as man himself performs it in and through God”. At the same time, a ritual action without appeal to the mind, or words which have no contact with reality is often the predicament of modern man. The words which convey nothing more than a reasoning process and actions which no longer make sense cannot be considered an effective ritual.
St.Cyprian in his Letter 63 insists that true worship depends on performing the ritual with the same intent as that of Christ. “The priest truly serves in Christ’s place who imitates what Christ did and offers up a true and complete sacrifice to God the Father in the Church when he proceeds to offer it just as he sees Christ himself to have offered it”.
Liturgy is not for one who does not understand and appreciate the role of signs since the liturgy is an expression of human religious ethos through outward symbolic means. Unfortunately for many moderns it has a bad ring. They consider the ‘rites’ to be rigid and restrictive of human freedom, especially when they are prescribed from above. According to a second century Roman jurist Pomponius Festus, a non-Christian, ‘rite’ is an “approved practice in the administration of sacrifice”. This definition seems to be still a valid one. The signs and symbols in the liturgy, says Vatican II, derive their meaning from the Bible (SC 24). For Christians, the ‘rite’ means “the practical arrangements made by the community in time and space, for the basic type of worship received from God in faith”. Of course, no sign or rite has any absolute value. At the same time, not every celebrant is free to change the ‘rites’ to his taste since it belongs to the community.
Besides, to celebrate the rituals meaningfully and effectively, one needs to know one’s own liturgical tradition sufficiently well because each tradition will have its own ‘vocabulary’ and ‘grammar’. All traditions will have something in common as the languages may have common words and grammar. However, each language will have its own grammatical construction. Writing English according to Hindi grammar would be comic. So is the case with a liturgical tradition. Each tradition will have its own way of expressing the worship formulae. A priest has to respect them.
Ars Celebrandi and the Priest
The ars celebrandi is not simply a gift, but a product of constant and disciplined practice. To a great extent, the way a priest celebrates the liturgy is a litmus text. To celebrate well, first of all, he needs to have the sensus Ecclesiae. Today people are on a fast-moving thread mill. Priests are no exception to this reality. The impression many celebrants give is that the ars celebrandi is a fait accompli with the seminary formation.
The attitude of the priest’s mind, heart and body towards God in the celebration affects the assembly. The tone of priest’s voice, his bodily movements and gestures invite people to a joyous and fruitful celebration. As the Charter of Priestly Formation for India remarks, “as a minister of the sacraments the priest renders the believing community and sharing community acceptable to God and transforms it into a living community of worship and service”.
Familiarity with the liturgical texts repeated everyday can cause the celebrant to fail to convey their full meaning. So also, a shift of emphasis in reciting prayers can give wrong signals to the community. For example, the dramatization of the Institution Narrative during the holy Mass can obfuscate the role of the Holy Spirit in the epiclesis and attribute the transformative power to the words uttered by the minister. Still worse, the attention of the participants can be drawn to the minister rather than to God!
The ‘art’ of reciting the prayers is an aspect every liturgist should attend to. Take, for example, the anaphoral prayers. They have multiple layers of meaning and hence key words and phrases deserve to be emphasized . To rush through these prayers obfuscate the sense of the sacred and obstruct active participation. Note the following key words given in italics from the anaphora of Mar Addai and Mar Mari and see how important it is to emphasize them as the priest recites the prayer.
Lord, as you have commanded us, we your humble, weak and distressed
Servants are gathered together in your presence. You have showered upon
us such great things for which we can never thank you enough. To make
us share in your divine life, you assumed human nature, restored us from
our fallen state, and brought us from death to life eternal. Forgiving our
debts you sanctified us sinners, enlightened our minds, defeated our
enemies and glorified our frail nature by your immense grace.
The priest-celebrant acts in his role as an ordained minister who is delegated to be the president of the assembly. Hence his interventions take place according to a determined manner and they constitute a particular mode of action within the framework of a liturgical action. In the liturgy he is an ‘ecclesial man’ (Vir Ecclesiasticus) united with the bishop and the presbyterium and thus a symbol of unity of the faithful. That is why Sacrosanctum Concilium No.42 recommends the Sunday Mass in the parish with the parish priest as the most sublime expression of the community of the faithful of the parish.
The primary duty of the president of the assembly is to create a congenial atmosphere so as to enable the Christian faithful to participate fruitfully in the mysteries of Christ being celebrated. In order to make the celebration active and fruitful, the president should have an understanding of the life-situations of the people with whom he celebrates because the liturgical celebrations are not only commemorations of the mysteries of Christ, but also are ‘celebrations’ of the life of the people in relation to the mysteries. Hence the breakings of the Word and the Bread as well as the celebration of other sacraments have to be contextualized for the benefit of the people. “The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the men of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well” (GS 1). This statement of the Council is relevant also for the liturgical assemblies. Precisely for this reason the discrimination against the poor in the Eucharistic assembly was considered by St.Paul as an offence against the Lord himself (1 Cor 11:17 ff.).
In the New Testament we find the word ‘president’ (referring to the role of a minister (cf. Rom 12:8; 1 Thes 5:12: 1 Tim 5:17; Tit 3:8). In these instances the term ‘president’ is equal to someone who is ‘responsible to’ or ‘having care of’. Therefore, the priest-president should be aware of the fact that he is called upon and deputed to serve the assembly, besides being part of it. He does not preside over the assembly’ but is within it; he does not lead it, but serves it. Every liturgical celebration being an ecclesial act nobody – not even the priest – shall monopolize it.
The priest-president of the liturgical assembly is, in a way, a guarantor of the faith of the Church. Hence his actions should correspond to the noble role he plays. This role is effectively fulfilled only when he is aware of the fact that the Church is a communion. Consequently, the freedom of the president is very limited. His personal impulses and charism are not of primary importance. He has to take into consideration also the ‘catholicity’ (universality) of the liturgical action which does not in any way diminish the importance of adaptation and inculturation.
‘Creativity’ is a necessary quality of a good celebrant. But it does not mean that one acts according to his tastes or fancies. It presupposes sound doctrinal formation because orthopraxis is always based on orthodoxy. Creativity in the liturgy does not necessarily and always mean ‘creating’ new prayers substituting the fixed ones. A well-trained celebrant can be creative in manifold ways. Choosing appropriate readings and hymns, using the options provided by the text itself, preparing relevant prayers of the faithful (karozutha prayers), contextualizing the celebration with an introduction and preaching a suitable homily are occasions to be creative. In fact, untimely and unnecessary improvisations are uncalled for since they can only distract people. Creativity is not meant to give ‘surprises’ to the community. The priest should know more than anyone else that every celebration, especially that of the Eucharist, has a content of its own and a style. Ordinarily the community too is well aware of it. In the name of creativity a good celebrant will not tamper with it unless there is a genuine need. Therefore the Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments remarked that the post-Vatican II reform has caused a number of abuses due to misguided sense of creativity and adaptation.
Generally speaking, the liturgical texts belong to the assembly. To change well-known to them runs not only the risk of distracting them, but also it becomes an airing of minister’s personal views. Liturgical worship is not the forum to express such views.
‘Minimalism’ and ‘Pontificalism’ are two unacceptable extremes in the liturgical celebrations. Minimalism sins by symbolic and ceremonial ‘defect’ and Pontificalism by their ‘excess’. Pontificalism lays unnecessary emphasis on secondary elements as to obscure the primary. Minimalism ignores almost everything and makes the celebration a poor one without any solemnity.
A temptation for many today is to look at the liturgical action in terms of, as Joseph Ratzinger observes, “creativity, freedom, celebration and community” wherein things like rite, obligation, interiority and Church laws are ‘negative factors’. For them the Missal is only a ‘guidebook’. The celebration is determined by the community and the concrete circumstance. They measure the ‘success’ on the celebration on the basis of the ‘activities’ that take place during the act of worship. Of course, there is some truth in this approach. But to tarnish the content of the celebration for the sake of creativity, spontaneity and participation can cause damage to the celebration as an action of God. In the attempt to make liturgy ‘simple’ and ‘intelligible’, the praise and honour to be rendered to God in an sacred atmosphere should not be made a mere secular action. In fact, liturgy is concerned not only with the conscious mind and with what can be immediately understood at a superficial level. Reducing the ecclesial community to a horizontal and humanistic group of persons will make religion and worship an affair about us rather than about God.
Trying to change prayers and rites in order to improve or contextualize them is, at times, something like trying to improve a finely turned musical instrument. One may know ‘something’ about the instrument, but he/she may not know the intricacies involved. In such cases, the best solution would be to leave it as it is and try to enjoy it. Very often the liturgical rites are carefully planned and based on principles and hence any capricious change will only impoverish its content.
The act of worship should help people to find strength in their spiritual life. Unfortunately many people find these celebrations dry, mechanical and unprofitable. This happens often due to the defective manner of the celebration. As Bishop Thomas Dabre observes, “We can no longer take their participation for granted. The celebration of the sacraments should be a joyful, inspiring and enlightening experience, for the sacraments unite us with the mysteries of salvation. Routine and the pressure of work can make our celebrations perfunctory, mechanical and dry. Priests and faithful need to collaborate and make the liturgy become an experience. Within the discipline of the Church’s worship, there is much scope for creativity, spontaneity and renewal. A greater commitment is called for to make the worship meaningful and profitable”.
Among the functions of the priest, Vatican II places the preaching of the Gospel as the first one (PO4; cf. 2 Cor 11:7). In this way they carry out the command of Christ: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature” (MT 16:15). In fact, “Faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard from the preaching of Christ” (Rom 10:17). As far as liturgy is concerned, this primary duty of the priest is realized in the Liturgy of the Word which essentially contains also the homily. Vatican II which recommended the need of a more ample, varied and suitable readings from the Sacred Scripture in the liturgy, suggested to give homily its rightful place in it and asked the priests to fulfil that duty most faithfully and carefully (SC 35/1-2). The Council also suggested the nature of the homily: “It must expound the Word of God not merely in a general and abstract way, but by an application of the elements of truths of the Gospel to concrete circumstances of life” (PO 4).
The homily besides being kerygmatic, doctrinal and moral, is also didactic and mystagogical. Hence the role of the president as a homilist is of utmost importance. In a way, homily is sharing of the ‘known to the knowing’. It is a time of ‘liturgical catechesis’. The source of this catechesis is ordinarily the Sacred Scripture and the liturgy. As the homily is usually addressed to the baptized, it is a time to help them to deepen their faith and to direct them to a morally upright life. For many members of the Church, the Sunday homily is the only spiritual food they receive in a week and hence the homily should be informative and stimulating about religious matters and capable of steering them towards God.
Homily in the liturgical celebration is an “act of worship”, that is, homily is not simply defined by its content – an explanation of the mysteries of salvation -, and rather it is an integral part of the celebration itself. Precisely for this theological reason, the lesser clerics or lay persons are not permitted to preach homily within the liturgical service. The homilist acts sacramentally in the place of Jesus the PRIEST b y rendering through his words an act of worship, as PROPHET proclaiming and explaining the Word of God, as KING he addresses the Body of Christ authoritatively as head and pastor”. As the priest exposes the word of God to the congregation, he is not only teaching the facts about salvation, but also carrying out the work of salvation. Presenting the truth of God the homilist awakes a response from the people, helping them to deepen their faith that leads to salvation.
In the homily, the role of the priest is not to teach ‘his own wisdom’, but the word of God and to issue an invitation to conversion and holiness. Preaching “cannot be reduced to the presentation of one’s own thought, to the manifestation of personal experience, to simple explanations of a psychological, sociological or humanitarian nature; nor can it excessively concentrate on rhetoric, so often found in mass-communication. It concerns proclaiming a Word which cannot be altered, because it has been entrusted to the Church in order to protect, penetrate and faithfully transmit it”.Therefore, homily not properly preached is a disservice done to the Church. As far as priests are concerned, homily should not be a ‘problem’, but an opportunity.
One of the major contributions of Vatican II liturgical Constitution is the impetus it gave to the active participation of the people in the liturgy. The priest plays an important role in making people participate actively in the celebration. But it is a matter of concern that many have not understood the real meaning of active participation. For them it is merely some external activities like responses to the prayers, singing by the choir and the like.
The central ‘action’ in the liturgy, in fact, is not the participating community. “The real liturgical action, the true liturgical act, is the oratio, the great prayer that forms the core of the Eucharistic celebration, the whole of which was, therefore called oratio by the Fathers… In this oratio the priest speaks with the I of the Lord – ‘This is my Body’, ‘This is my Blood’… This action of God, which takes place through human speech, is the real ‘action’ for which all of creation is in expectation… This is what is new and distinctive about Christian liturgy”. This dimension of the interior dynamism of the liturgical action – the divine action – needs to be safeguarded. Therefore, for the sake of contextualization and being ‘creative’, the worshipping community should not be made a mere ‘social gathering’. The Eastern, and hence Indian, approach of apophatism can be of great help to pay attention to this divine dimension. The words and actions of the priest as well as the place and atmosphere of the celebration should be such that they evoke a sense of the sacred.
Vatican II has given a number of suggestions to promote the active participation of the people (SC 11, 14, 17, 18, 19, 28, 29, 30 etc). The roles of each minister and that of the community need to be properly understood and respected for an effective participation. It is not right that the priest cedes to others those things that are proper to his office.
Vatican II which recommended responses, acclamations, hymns as well as gestures and bodily attitudes on the part of the faithful for active participation, added also that at proper times a ‘reverent silence’ should be observed (SC 30). Today people need to realize the effectiveness of silence in the liturgy, especially in the context of Indian religious ethos.
Silence in the liturgy is not a pause or an interruption, but a time of recollection , giving us an inward peace.Silence helps ‘to feel the divine presence’. But, as Ratzinger observes, it is ‘manifestly not being met in our present form of the liturgy’. Besides the silent moments for reflection after the homily and holy communion, Ratzinger suggests the time of the deposition of the gifts at the offertory as a time of silence placing ourselves before the Lord, asking him to make us ready for ‘transformation’ as the bred and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. A good celebrant will help people to experience this interior silence and take maximum fruit out of the celebration.
Alluding to some church-services, the Russian writer, Vladmir Rozanov once remarked that many Christians actually do not worship; instead, they have a lecture followed by a concert. The author was sarcastically referring to the long biblical discourses and the music.
As we have already explained, the liturgy is more a ‘ritual prayer’. While the priests of pre-Vatican II erred in rubrics by excess, the post-Vatican generation errs by reductionism. Proper ritual actions – a slow entrance procession, a respectful carrying of the cross, Gospel book and candles, a reverent sign of the cross, a devotional recital of the prayers etc. – are important from a didactic point of view because they impress upon the congregation who participate in the worship.
In short, a totally necessary aspect of the formation of every Christian, and in particular of every priest, is liturgical formation in the full sense of becoming inserted in a living way in the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ who died and rose again and is present and active in the Church’s sacraments’.
 A.PIERIS, A Liturgical Anticipation of a Domination-Free Church: The Story of an Asian Eucharist, EAPR, 3/2006, 215.
 G.NEVILLE, St.John Chrysostom: Six Books on the Priesthood, New York 1984.
 P.MANIATTU, Heaven on Earth. The Theology of Liturgical Spacetime in the East Syrian Qurbana, Rome 1995, 196.
 Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum (2004), No.31.
 Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003), No.3; cf. PO 14.
 L.BOUYER, Rite and Man. Natural Sacredness and Christian Liturgy, Notre Dame 1963, 57.
 Letter 63:14.4. Quoted in Homiletic and Pastoral Review, July 2005, 51.
 J.RATZINGER, The Spirit of the Liturgy, San Francisco 200, 159.
 J.RATZINGER, The Spirit of the Liturgy, 160.
 Conference of Catholic Bishops of India, Charter of Priestly Formation for India (2004), No.1.2.3
 Redemptionis Sacramentum, No.30
 J.RATZINGER, The Feast of Faith, San Francisco 1986, 61.
 The Ministry of Diocesan Priests in India today, Vidyajyoti, April 2005, 249.
 J.FOX, The Homily and the Authentic Interpretation of Canon 767/1, Rome 1989. Quoted in Homiletic and Pastoral Review, November 1999, 18.
 JOHN PAUL II, Apostolic Exhortation Pastores dabo Vobis (1992), No.26.
 Congregation for the Clergy, Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests, Rome 1994, No.45.
 J.RATZINGER, The Spirit of the Liturgy, 172-173.
 Redemptionis Sacramentum, No.32.
 J.RATZINGER, The Spirit of the Liturgy, 209.
 The Spirit of the Liturgy, 209.
 The Spirit of the Liturgy, 211.
 A.PIERIS, A Liturgical Anticipation of a Domination-Free Church, 216
 Pastores dabo Vobis, No.48.
Posted by Fr Nelson MCBS on June 23, 2012
13 – 15 June 2006
Before we deal with “Blessings”, we need to have some understanding about what is meant by ‘blessing’. Are ‘sacramentals’ and ‘blessings’ the same? What are ‘para-liturgical’ services? Can we make a distinction between ‘major’ blessings and ‘minor’ blessings? Which are the blessings ‘reserved’ to the bishops and priests? Are deacons of the Eastern Churches permitted to administer blessings? Which is the type of blessings that lay people may administer? As far as I know, the Syro-Malabar Church has not formally addressed these questions. Therefore, this paper is based on certain assumptions and practices that need to be clarified in order to arrive at acceptable conclusions in view of understanding the very idea of ‘Blessings’ and eventually preparing the ritual for the same.
Before trying to understand the Syro-Malabar Blessings, I feel that we need to have some general notions about the Sacramentals and Blessings in the light of Church documents and history of Blessings, including those of the Western tradition. Part One, therefore, is a survey in order to understand the meaning and areas of ‘Blessings’ and Part Two deals specifically with the Syro-Malabar Blessings.
1. Vatican II and Sacramentals
Vatican II has not given specific principles and norms regarding the Blessings. However, its references to the Sacramentals give us some hints to understand the Blessings.
After explaining the meaning of the sacraments, SC 60 says about the sacramentals the following: “These (sacramentals) are sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments. They signify effects, particularly of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the Church’s intercession. By them men are disposed to receive the chief effects of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy”. For well-disposed members of the faithful, notes the document, “the liturgy of the sacraments and sacramentals sanctifies almost every event of their lives with the divine grace which flows from the paschal mystery of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ. From this source all sacraments and sacramentals draw their power (SC 61). However, in the course of history some features have crept into the rite of the sacramentals and sacraments which have rendered their nature and purpose ‘far from clear to the people of today’ (SC 62). Then the Council proposes that the sacramentals be revised in such a way as to ‘enable the faithful to participate in them intelligently, actively and easily considering the circumstances of our times’ (SC 79). It also suggests to have provision for administering ‘some of the sacramentals’ at least ‘in special circumstances’ by ‘qualified lay persons’ at the ‘discretion of the bishops’ (SC 79).
Two of the sacramentals specifically mentioned in the Council document are the profession of the religious (SC 80) and the funeral rite (SC 81, 82).
2. Catechism of the Catholic Church and Sacramentals
According to CCC, the sacramentals are ‘instituted for the sanctification of certain ministries of the Church, certain states of life, a great variety of Christian life, and the use of many things helpful to man’ and they respond to the ‘needs, culture and special history of the Christian people of a particular region or time’ (CCC 1668).
What is the distinction between sacraments and sacramentals? In the words of CCC, ‘sacramentals do not confer the grace of the Holy Spirit in the way that the sacraments do, but by the Church’s prayer, they prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it’ (CCC 1670).
Who is the celebrant of the sacramentals? Sacramentals derive from ‘baptismal priesthood’ and hence every baptized person is “called to be a blessing and to bless” (CCC 1669. Cf. Gen. 12,2; Lk 6,28; Rom. 12,14; 1 Pet. 3,9). Consequently, also lay people may preside at ‘certain blessings’ (CCC 1669).
CCC identifies the following categories of sacramentals:
Besides these sacramentals proper, there are also various forms of piety and popular devotions ‘surrounding the Church’s sacramental life’ such as the veneration of the relics, visits to sanctuaries, pilgrimages, processions, the Stations of the Cross, religious dances, the rosary, medals etc. (CCC 1674). However, they do not replace liturgy, but are ‘extensions of the liturgical life of the Church’ (CCC 1675).
Referring to the Latin American Bishops’ Conference CELAM, the CCC notes that the popular piety of the Christian people is a ‘storehouse of values that offers answers of Christian wisdom to the great questions of life’ (CCC 1676).
3. Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches and Sacramentals
According to CCEO 867/1 the sacramentals are “sacred signs, which in a way imitate the sacraments and signify effects, especially spiritual ones, which are obtained through the impetration of the Church. Through the sacramentals people are disposed to receive the principal effects of the sacraments and the various circumstances of their life are sanctified”. The detailed norms concerning the sacramentals are left to the Particular Law of each Individual Church sui iuris.
The Latin Code of Canon Law is more specific regarding the sacramentals. It speaks about the sacramentals which can be administered by lay people (CIC 1168), the role of the deacons in imparting blessings (CIC 1169/3), the possibility of extending blessings to non-Catholics (CIC 1170) etc.
4. Syro-Malabar Particular Law and Sacramentals
The Particular Law of SMC has the following to say about the sacramentals and their administration.
After stating that the bishops, priests and deacons are the ordinary ministers of the sacramentals (No. 153), the Law gives the following directives:
5. Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches and Sacramentals
Sacramentals and popular devotions often respond to the religious sensibility of the peoples. According to the Instruction, the Eastern Churches are known for their ability to integrate the elements of their devotions into their liturgies. So much so, they have “their own devotional forms or formulas, less precise, more individual and probably easier, such as exclamatory prayers, celebration of the divine office with their own particular content, veneration of the most Holy Cross, of icons, of relics, of sanctuaries, the use of candles, incensing, and sometimes even the offering of animals” (No. 38). These manifestations of piety have usually remained “linked with the liturgical life” (No. 38).
I think that three observations are in order here.
(i) Eastern popular piety is less precise and more individual. This was the case also in the development of the liturgy. The fluid liturgical celebrations of individual pioneers were later codified and introduced. Such a process in popular piety too was a felt-need. Hence, it is natural that the popular devotions in the SMC are codified and have adopted a communitarian dimension.
(ii) Eastern manifestations of popular piety were linked with the liturgical life. But, in the course of history, we find an attempt, both in the East as well as in the West, to make a distinction between liturgy and popular piety. The general trend in the SMC too is to separate popular piety from liturgy, rather than to integrate it with the liturgical life.
(iii) After mentioning the influence of Latin popular devotions on the Eastern Catholic Churches and the spiritual benefits they have obtained due to this influence, the Instruction states that in any event it should be kept in mind that which has been established by CCEO 656/2 according to which the prayer books of popular devotions should have ecclesiastical permission (No. 38). It seems to me that the Instruction is taking the ‘Latin influence’ as a fait-accompli and hence future attempts should be to integrate them properly without endangering one’s own liturgical traditions.
6. Blessings: A Short Historical Survey
To ‘bless’ (benedicere, eulogein) means ‘to say a good word’. However, it is generally understood as a ‘praise to God’ or an ‘invocation to God’. This two-fold movement is the meaning of blessing in the liturgical tradition. The former (praising God) is very clear in the Eucharistic celebration and the divine office. The latter form of blessing (invoking God) is found in a variety of forms like the blessing of the ashes or palms, the blessing of oil and water, the blessing of sacred images or vessels, the blessing of persons or places etc. Among these there are those which are administered by the ordained ministers and which forms part of Church’s euchological patrimony. There are also popular practices of blessings that have roots in the Bible and in the faith of the people.
In the past when people were basically rural, they invoked God’s blessings over all aspects of their lives, from birth to death. Making the sign of the cross on oneself, prayer on rising in the morning and before retiring at night, prayer before and after meals, blessing of children, the sick etc. are examples.
Blessings have developed also on the basis of the rhythms of the universe. Prayers on the occasions of sowing, harvest, natural disasters etc. were human responses to God’s omnipresence and omnipotence. Blessings for protection against the evil spirits are yet another development in history. Some of them later led to superstitious and magical practices. Certain types of exorcism are consequent upon this mentality. In course of time some blessings became ‘private’ functions of the priest without any participation of the community. This has caused cases where ‘magical effects’ are attributed to Blessings.
Till the 13th century we do not find a ‘definition’ of the sacramentals. In fact, the term ‘sacramental’ and its quasi-definition was introduced for the first time by Guglielmo d’ Auvergne (+ 1249), a professor of Paris University and later an Archbishop. Later its understanding was made clearer by St Thomas Aquinas who held that the sacramentals were not instituted by Christ and that they did not confer grace and were left to the institution of the faithful. Suarez, Bellarmino and others tried to clarify this concept further. Eventually the sacramentals were understood as visible signs, instituted by the Church, for the spiritual and material benefit of the faithful.
In early times a distinction was made between ‘Constitutive Blessing’ (e.g. Blessing of the baptismal font) whose effect is guaranteed through the mediation of the Church and ‘Invocative Blessing’ (e.g. Blessing of a sick person) whose effect depends on the desire of the recipient and the will of God.
The roots of Christian liturgical blessings are found in the anaphoral prayers. They are the highest forms of Blessings. For example, in the four G’hanta cycles of the anaphora of Mar Addai and Mar Mari, the Father, the Holy Trinity, Christ and the Holy Spirit are ‘blessed’ respectively. There are other blessings too in the Eucharistic celebration. The blessing of the catechumens before their dismissal, the blessing before Holy Communion, the final blessing (Huttama) etc. and the blessing with the Gospel book, the blessing before the exchange of peace etc. are examples.
Two representative ancient documents which reveal the nature of the Blessings are Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus of Rome in the West and Euchologion of Serapion in the East. In the Apostolic Tradition there are two Blessings: one for the light when the lamps are brought to the dining room before the evening meal and the other for the first fruits. The Euchologion of Serapion contains Blessing of persons (catechumens, lay persons, the sick etc.) and objects (oil for the sick, water for Baptism, oil for post-baptismal anointing etc.).
The history of Blessings in the Eastern tradition reveals that there is no dearth of borrowings from various texts such as Apostolic Tradition and even apocryphal sources. It is true also with regard to their style and content.
‘Blessing’ sometimes expresses the idea of ‘permission’ in the West as well as in the East. Thus ‘Bless me, Lord, (Barekmar) in the liturgy of the Word can mean ‘Do you allow me?’
7. Blessings and Inculturation
The field of ‘Blessings’ is an area where there is great scope for inculturation and adaptation. As Catechism of the Catholic Church states, the sacramentals respond to the “needs, culture and special history of the Christian people of a particular region or time” (CCC 1668). The “Book of Blessings” of the Latin Rite notes that provision should be made for legitimate variations adaptations of the Rite of Blessings to different groups, peoples and regions. The Bishops’ Conferences are authorized to take necessary steps in this regard.
As far as the Eastern Churches are concerned, inculturation is a hallmark of their tradition. As the Congregation for Catholic Education once remarked, the Eastern Churches have a long tradition of inculturation teaching Christian peoples to praise God in their own language. The process of inculturation in the East sometimes reached such a point that their cultural life was ‘identified with the manner of Christian living’. The study of this process, the document added, ‘can serve as an example and guide for those involved in a similar process today’.
The Syro-Malabar Church is no exception to this rule. Various Rites connected with birth, baptism, marriage, funeral etc. are all well known. In fact, the Syro-Malabar bishops have on different occasions expressed the need of adapting liturgy to the needs of places and times. Following this trend the eparchy of Chanda has given shape to some inculturated sacramentals.
8. Nestorian Rituals
George Percy Badger in his “The Nestorians and Their Rituals” gives references to the following sacramentals of the Nestorians.
9. Latin Rite and the Book of Blessings
The Book of Blessings of the Latin Rite says that the Blessings hold “a privileged place among all the sacramentals created by the Church for the pastoral benefit of the people of God”. As a liturgical action, they ‘lead the faithful to praise God and prepare them for the principal effects of the sacraments’. Through blessings the faithful can ‘sanctify various situations and events in their lives’. Further it says that the blessings are established by the Church ‘as a kind of imitation of the sacramentals’ and that their effects are achieved ‘through the intervention of the Church’. And the blessings are meant ‘for praising God through Christ in the Holy Spirit and for calling on divine help’.
The following observations and recommendations of the “Book of Blessings’ are very relevant:
The Latin Rite divides the Blessings into five categories:
(i) Blessings directly pertaining to Persons (e.g. Sick persons, travellers etc.)
(ii) Blessings related to Buildings and to various forms of Human Activity (e.g. Houses, Hospitals, Shops, Fields etc.)
(iii) Blessings of Objects that are designed or erected for use in Churches, either in the Liturgy or in Popular Devotions (e.g. Baptismal font, Confessional, Tabernacle, Cross, Holy Water, Sacred Images, Cemetery etc.)
(iv) Blessings of Articles meant to foster the Devotion of the Christian People (e.g. Religious articles, Rosaries, Medals etc.)
(v) Blessings for various Needs and Occasions (e.g. Thanksgiving on Year-End, Beginning of the New Year, Anniversaries, Jubilees etc.)
In general, the Latin formularies have the following pattern: Introduction, Scriptural readings, Responsorial Song, Homily, Intercessions, Prayer of Blessing, Concluding Blessing and Dismissal.
The second part of this paper is an attempt to understand the idea the Syro-Malabar Church has about “Blessings”. The available data could be of help to prepare a ‘Book of Blessings’ for the Syro-Malabar Church.
1. Blessings in the Syro-Malabar Church
As in any Christian tradition we come across Sacramentals and Blessings for various occasions in the Syro-Malabar Church. Though no systematic study and research have been undertaken to understand their origin and development, some general and universal trends can be found in their development.
The Eastern Churches are said to have developed their own specific forms of devotions in history.Among them the veneration of the Cross, devotion to the relics., visit to the sanctuaries, incensing etc. seem to have been practiced also by the Syro-Malabarians. The ‘blessing’ of the sick with the ‘relics’ of the tomb of St.Thomas at Mylapore appears to be a specific example of indigenous Syro-Malabar tradition.
History reminds us that there was no dearth of borrowing among the Churches in the case of devotions.A number of Western devotions prevalent in the Syro-Malabar Church today can be easily understood in this background.
Christian tradition of the Blessings is not an ‘original’ contribution of the early Christians. In fact, they received it from the Jews and continued to use it spontaneously, without much theological reflection and keep it in diverse forms. This seems to be true with regard to the Western devotions in the Syro-Malabar Church too.
The term ‘benediction’ (Berakah) had at least three meanings in the Jewish understanding. It could be (i) Blessing coming from God (ii) Blessing of praise to God and (iii) Prayer or wish of blessing by man. These three dimensions are found also in the Syro-Malabar Blessings. For the Jews, however, the second dimension – blessing of praise to God for His marvellous deeds – was more important. But the Syro-Malabar Blessings are more in line with the third dimension, that is, petitions for God’s blessings.
A close examination of the history of Blessings will reveal that their development took two directions: One is the ‘shape’ of these Blessings in the Jewish tradition and the other the human-religious sentiments contained in them. Already by the second century there was a shift of emphasis from ‘praise of God’ to ‘sanctification of objects’. Today this emphasis is reiterated. This can be ascertained from the spectacular popularity of pious devotions.
2. Syro-Malabar Rituals of Blessings
Here below is given a list of Rituals of Blessings now in use in the Syro-Malabar Church. The list is not exhaustive.
(1) Blessings (Vencherippukal): This is one of the first Ritual of Blessings published from Ernakulam in 1974. It has 6 parts and an appendix.
Part 1: Blessing of ‘Sacred Places’: ( Chapel, Cemetery etc.)
Part 2: Blessing of ‘Buildings and Places’: (Houses, Hospitals, Schools, Shops etc)
Part 3: Blessing of ‘Persons’: (Children, Sick persons etc.)
Part 4: Blessing of ‘Sacred Objects’: (Vestments, Vessels, Religious articles etc)
Part 5: Blessing of ‘Animals’.
Part 6: Other ‘Useful Objects’: (Vehicles, Food etc).
The appendix has the prayer of ‘consecration of the family’ to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Litany of Our Lord, a prayer-service that can be used when the priest visits a family etc.
(2) Blessings (Asirvadhaprarthanakal): This book was published by Denha Services, Kottayam, in 1988. The book has a sub-title too, namely “Sacramentals”(Koodasanukaranangal).
The preface of the Ritual states that the book is prepared making use of the sources and taking into consideration the present needs of the Syro-Malabar Church. It defines the sacramental as the rites which are ‘formed from the sacraments and are similar to them in spirit and structure’. It also opens the way for adapting them according to the circumstances. The sacramentals being communitarian celebrations, it is recommended that at least a few people should be present when they are administered. According to the Ritual, the priests are the celebrants of the sacramentals though the deacons can substitute them in their absence.
The book has three parts and an appendix.
Part 1: It is entitled ‘Blessings’ (Venchirippukal). There are 18 items in this category beginning with ‘House Blessing’. Other Blessings are of holy water, religious articles, buildings, animals, vehicles etc. It includes also the betrothal ceremony, exorcism etc.
Part 2: Blessing of the sick and the dying.
Part 3: Blessings to be used on ‘Special Occasions’ which includes prayer before and after meals, for good harvest, on birthday etc.
The appendix gives a rite for the ‘Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament” integrating the Ramsa prayer.
(3) Blessings (Venchirippukal): This Ritual was published from Ernakulam in 1992 by the Inter-diocesan Committee for Liturgy. A special feature of this book is the addition of an inculturated Rite of House Blessing into which some traditional Indian elements like Arathi, Bhajans etc are incorporated.
The book has 7 parts divided as follows:
Part 1: Buildings and Institutions (Houses, Chapels, Shops etc.)
Part 2: Sacred Objects (Altar, Sacred Images, Rosaries, Medals etc.)
Part 3: Various Objects (Food items, Boats etc.)
Part 4: Vehicles
Part 5: Animals
Part 6: Food Offerings
Part 7: Holy Water
(4) A Collection of Various Booklets of Blessings
(i) A “Collection of Prayers” (Prarthanasamaharam) by Cardinal Joseph Parecattil, Ernakulam 10980. It contains 42 prayers or prayer-services for various occasions.
(ii) An Order for Blessing the Houses of the Religious and Priests, Denha Services, Kottayam 1984.
(iii) Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction, Denha Services, Kottayam 1984.
(iv) Betrothal, Oottunercha, Rite of Healing the Sick, Ernakulam 1985.
(v) Prayer- service in honour of Blessed Chavara and Alphonsa, Denha Services, Kottayam 1986.
(vi) Rite of Christmas Celebration, Denha Services, Kottayam 1987.
(vii) Christmas Celebration, Sandesanilayam, Changanacherry (No date)
(viii) Message of Christmas, Prayer on Year-End, Prayer at the Beginning of the Year, Ernakulam 1987.
(ix) Sacred Rites in the Church (Devalayathirukkarmangal), Inter-diocesan Committee for Liturgy, Ernakulam 1991.
(5) Prayer for the Dead
Various diocesan committees have published a series of prayer books under the title ‘Prayer for the Dead’.
(i) Prayers during and after Death, Ernakulam 1969.
(ii) Prayer Service for the Dead, Ernakulam 1980
(iii) Commemoration of the Dead, Ernakulam 1984
(iv) Anuthaparchana, Changanacherry 1992
(v) From the Valley of Death, Kottayam 1996
(vi) Prayer for the Dead, Irinjalakuda 1997
(vii) Prayer for the Dead, Thamarassery 2003
(viii) Prayer Service for the Dead, Ernakulam 2006
(6) Home Liturgy
In the history of Syro-Malabar Blessings a new path was opened by Fr.Jacob Aeranat who published his “Home Liturgy” (Kudumbaliturgy) in 1980. Two books are now available in this category.
(i) Home Liturgy (Kudumbaliturgy) by Fr.Jacob Aeranat, Ernakulam 1980.
This book got a very enthusiastic reception in the Syro-Malabar families. In 2003 it had its 11th reprint. The book has about 130 Blessings and prayers for various occasions.
(ii) Family Rites (lKudumbasusrooshakal) By Fr.Thomas Mathasseril CMI, Kottayam 2002.
This book has 200 Blessings and prayer- services under 28 headings. The approach of this book is a little different from that of ‘Home Liturgy’ in some respects. For example, there are 42 prayer- services connected with marriage and family alone. (e.g. Vivaham Urappikkal, marriage, after marriage, child-birth, baptism etc.)
3. Some Remarks
An examination of “Blessings” in the Syro-Malabar Church brings out the following categories:
(i) Blessings reserved to the Bishops (Muron, Church, Deppa(?) etc.). They are often called ‘consecrations’.
(ii) Blessings reserved to the Bishops or priests (Ashes, Palms, Water, House etc.).
(iii) Quasi-blessings the deacons may administer. (Generally, the deacons do not impart any blessing in the Eastern tradition. However, the Particular Law of the Syro-Malabar Church allows the deacons to be official witness at the betrothal).
(iv) M’samsana, Hevpadyakna and Karoya are allowed by the Syro-Malabar Particular Law to be the ministers of the sacramental of Adima though they are not allowed to impart blessing with the Sign of the Cross.
(v) The Syro-Malabar faithful ‘administer’ the so-called ‘Home Liturgies’ with a prayer of invocation to God for His blessings in connection with various domestic religious occasions like marriage, baptism, holy communion etc.
Among the various categories of Blessings in the Syro-Malabar Church we may identify the following:
(i) Persons: (Children, Sick persons etc.)
(ii) Buildings: (Presbytery, Religious Houses, Corner-stone etc.)
(iii) Objects (Tools): ( Food Vehicles, Boats etc.)
(iv) Sacred Objects: (Altar, Baptismal Font, Cross, Sacred Vessels, Holy Water, Sacred Images, the Stations of the Cross etc.)
(v) Places: ( Cemetery, Fields etc.)
(vii) Various Occasions: (Home Liturgies)
In today’s secularised and secularising world how far do the Blessings influence the people? It is true that the progress of science, technology, urbanization etc. have made certain Blessings lose their original Christian meaning. At the same time, we find also a growth of various Blessings, some of them even slipping into near-superstitious and magical practices.
Another phenomenon is the shift of emphasis regarding the content of Blessings. The original meaning of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord has given way to prayers of petitions. Though the petitions do part of the Blessing, we need to rediscover the original meaning of Christian Blessings. The karozutha prayers of the Syro-Malabar Qurbana is a right indicator in this direction. The response of each petition is “Lord, have mercy on us”.
 Here the document mentions the sacramentals before the sacraments which, in my judgement, implies that the sacramentals are more vitiated than the sacraments in the historical process.
 No example is given in CCC. The blessing of ‘Pesaha Appam’ could be an example.
 When the Church publicly and authoritatively asks that a person be protected from the dominion of the power of the Evil One, it is called exorcism.
 This translation is taken from George Nedungatt, A Companion to the Eastern Code, Rome 1994, p.204.
 Congregation for the Eastern Churches, Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Rome 1996
 Cf. Mario Righetti, Storia Liturgica IV: Sacramenti e Sacramentali, Milano 1959, p.474
 Cf. Ibid, p. 476
 Cf. Reiner Kaczynski, Blessings in Rome and the Non-Roman West, in A.J. Chupungco (ed.), Handbook for Liturgical Studies IV, Collegeville 2000, p. 398
 Cf. Ibid, p. 399
 Cf. Elena Velkova Velkovska, Blessings in the East, in A.J.Chupungco 9ed.), Handbook for Liturgical Studies, p. 388
 Cf. Ibid, p. 384
 ICEL, Book of Blessings, Washington DC 1987, General Instructions No. 24
 Ibid, General Instructions No. 39
 Cf. Circular Letter Concerning Studies of the Oriental Churches, L’Osservatore Romano, 6 April 1987, p. 12
 Cf. SMBC Report of 19 June 1973, p. 1-2; Report of 14 August 1974, p. 1; Report of 6 December 1980, p. 1; Report of 7 November 1985, p. 3; Report of 3 December 1986, p. 5; Report of the Synod of November 1999 etc.
 G.P. Badger, Nestorians and Their Rituals, Vol. II, London 1852
 Cf. Book of Blessings, Preface, p.7.
 Book of Blessings, General Instructions, No.10.
 Ibid., No.13
 Examples: Blessing of altar, chalice, paten etc.; Jubilee celebration of marriage, Blessing of bed-ridden sick persons at home etc.
 However, when a priest or a deacon is present, the ministry of blessing should be left to them.
 Congregation for the Eastern Churches, Instruction, No.38. See above, p.3.
 See above, Footnote No.9.
 For example, the Jewish domestic liturgy of Birkat ha Mazon which was a prayer of thanksgiving was not meant simply for the food, but also for all the gifts of Yahweh.
 This Ritual is translated into English, but without the appendix. ‘Blessings and Prayers (Sacramentals), Denha Services, Kottayam 1990.
 Andres Torres Queiruga, Beyond Prayer of Petitions, in Concilium, 1/2006, pp.63-75.
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