Nature of the Church Still Being Discussed

32nd General Congregation
December 3, 1962

The ecumenical council carried its discussion of a proposed treatise on the nature of the Church right into the final week of its first session.

Auxiliary Bishop Mark McGrath of Panama holds a press conference on church problems in Latin America in the press center at the Second Vatican Council. Bishop Manuel Larrain Errazuriz of Chile is seated, second from left, along with officials of the press office. Although press briefings were common during Vatican II, journalists were excluded from the general meetings of the council. (CNS file photo)

Auxiliary Bishop Mark McGrath of Panama holds a press conference on church problems in Latin America in the press center at the Second Vatican Council. Bishop Manuel Larrain Errazuriz of Chile is seated, second from left, along with officials of the press office. Although press briefings were common during Vatican II, journalists were excluded from the general meetings of the council. (CNS file photo)

The project, entitled “De Ecclesia,” was thrashed over again at the 32nd general congregation. According to the daily communique, the discussion was generally favorable.

There were a number of requests, however, that various aspects of the document be clarified or further stressed.

Among those speaking out on the treatise were Francis Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop of New York; James Francis Cardinal Mclntyre, Archbishop of Los Angeles; and Paul Emile Cardinal Leger, Archbishop of Montreal.

The discussion of the “De Ecclesia” document followed another vote in which the council Fathers approved two additional amendments to the council document on the liturgy.

The press bulletin, in speaking of the discussion on the document on the Church, said the majority of the five cardinals and 10 other council Fathers who spoke held that “the manner in which it had been composed constituted a good work basis.”

It said there were a number of both positive and negative judgments on the project as a whole. Among the positive ones listed were “the strong elements which it contains for establishing a clear theological notion based on Holy Scripture, which may be helpful with the dialogue with the separated brothers and which can enkindle love in the faithful for the Church; the intention of going deeply into doctrine which concerns the rights and duties both of bishops and of laymen; finally, the intention of treating the problem of ecumenism.”

In speaking of the negative side of the project, the bulletin continued:

“In certain parts it is not sufficiently coordinated; its presentation is too juridical regarding the power of the episcopal college and of the function of the laity, while the subject is not treated with sufficient thoroughness.

“It was requested that in providing for amendments of this project, the theological commission should also hear the opinions of the commissions interested in related material, so as to avoid different treatments of the same theme and to complete the presentation of a given subject from every point of view.”

In the discussion of the laymen, the communique said, there was a plea that “greater prominence” be given to the principles from which lay people derive their dignity.

It said this is sometimes referred to as “their priesthood — inasmuch as they are members of the Mystical Body of Christ, from which they have the duty of establishing the reign of Christ in the modern world through their own authority and competence and not only as executors of the directives of the hierarchy.”

Referring to the power of the bishops, the bulletin reported that the council was reminded “that the bond of charity which unites the Supreme Pontiff with them be stressed more.”

The bulletin said further that “some, while praising the fact that the project underlines the nature of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ, recalled the necessity of not underestimating — and therefore of reaffirming without equivocation — the visible juridical and hierarchical character of the Church founded by Christ.”

“Others,” the bulletin added, “expressed the opinion that the project insists more on this latter concept to the detriment of the supernatural nature of the Church.”

The bulletin reported that “the wish was expressed that the project be more open to pastoral needs, especially those of the mission countries.”

“It was also said,” the bulletin continued, “that the doctrine on the relations between Church and State should be formulated in a way which takes into account realities of the present day and in such a way as not to be unduly offensive to the State. The Church must be ready to face persecutions, it was said, but it must not provoke them.

“One speaker expressed the wish that — as always, but particularly now — there be emphasized the characteristic of the Church of being born of the Blood of Christ and of being the continuation of the mystery of the Passion of the Cross. It is opportune, it was stated, that this concept of the Church be confirmed especially for the comfort of those in different parts of the world who suffer, socially, individually, morally and physically, because they belong to Christ’s Church whose Passion they continue mystically.”

The opening Mass of the day was celebrated in the Syro-Malabar Rite by Archbishop Joseph Parecattil of Ernakulam, India. The presiding officer was Ernesto Cardinal Ruffini, Archbishop of Palermo, Sicily. There were 2,116 council Fathers present.

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