Bishop Suggests Laypeople Serve as Council Experts

33rd General Congregation
December 4, 1962

One bishop has told the Fathers of the ecumenical council that lay experts should be called on to contribute to the work of the council in fields in which they are specialists.

Father Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, is seen with French Dominican Father Yves Congar during the Second Vatican Council in 1962. Both served as council experts, but one bishop thought laypeople could serve as experts too. (CNS photo from KNA)

Father Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, is seen with French Dominican Father Yves Congar during the Second Vatican Council in 1962. Both served as council experts, but one bishop thought laypeople could serve as experts too. (CNS photo from KNA)

The bishop, whose identity was not revealed, spoke during the 33rd general meeting of the Second Vatican Council. The council press communique said he suggested that “laymen could make a valuable contribution to the studies of the council in questions related to their specific competence, such as the communications media, and in regarding special aspects of their activity in the world.”

All of the more than 200 appointed “experts” of the council are priests. The council bulletin said the bishop who called for use of lay talents and knowledge in connection with the council itself also “requested a solemn proclamation by the council on the importance and the function of the apostolate of the laity in the Church today.”

The day’s session was opened with the announcement by Archbishop Pericle Felici, council secretary general, that another set of amendments prepared by the liturgical commission was being distributed to the 2,104 council Fathers present, and that they could be voted on before the closing session on the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

It appeared that an effort was being made to have at least the first chapter of the council’s document on the liturgy completed in final form before the end of the first session. Some council Fathers had requested such action, it had been revealed. If this were done, and the completed part were published during the public congregation of the council on Dec. 8, then the bishops would no longer be held to secrecy about it. They could therefore present the approved text of this document to their own people.

There was also a possibility that another document could be published at the solemn meeting at which Pope John XXIII was scheduled to preside on Dec. 8. This one concerns Church unity, particularly the ties between Catholics and the separated Christians of the East. On Dec. 1, at the 31st general congregation of the council, it was moved and approved by a vote of the Fathers that the treatise be accepted “as a document which contains the common truths of the Faith and as a sign of (the council Fathers’) mindfulness and benevolence toward the separated brothers of the East.”

Following Archbishop Felici’s announcement, Archbishop Franjo Seper of Zagreb, Yugoslavia, went to a microphone and said:

“All of us know what a joy and consolation it would be to be received in the audiences which John XXIII had customarily granted to the groups of bishops of the different nations. We wish, however, to offer the renunciation of these audiences as a sacrifice to the Lord so that the Holy Father will not be subjected to so much fatigue.”

Archbishop Seper then requested the council presidency to present the Pope with “not only the sincere good wishes of the assembly, but also the promise of its continued prayers enriched with sacrifice.”

The council bulletin said that the whole council in effect voiced approval of the Archbishop’s remarks through the sustained applause he received.

(Meanwhile, a Vatican spokesman was announcing that the Pope’s general Wednesday audience for the public was being canceled for the second week in a row. But in contrast to the previous week, when he was confined to his bed, the Bishop of Rome was scheduled to go to the window of his study to bless the people in St. Peter’s square below.)

The 33rd general congregation continued with the speeches of the council Fathers in which they indicated their feelings on the theological document on the nature of the Church.

The most prominent observation, which according to the communique was accepted by all, was that the treatise should be considered the central and focal point of the Second Vatican Council.

One Father went so far as to say, the bulletin continued, that “if the theme treated in these days is to be a kind of central point of the council, from which the general directives are to be taken for all the other future discussions, it would be advisable to coordinate all the work of revision on the different projects with the study of the Church considered from within and considered from without.”

One critic of the document said it was too juridical in form. He was answered by another speaker who defended the form by saying that “as long as one lives in the world one cannot do without institutions and juridical norms” and that even “charity itself cannot exist without justice.”

Other critics of the document complained that it did not give sufficient place to the works of the early Church Fathers of the East, that it did not cite Sacred Scriptures as fully as it could, and that it limited itself to a study of the Church Militant without reference to the Church Triumphant.

Further criticisms were made about the document’s style. Its separate chapters were obviously written by separate authors, it was stated. One suggestion was that it be revised “by a few persons and with a single, uniform style.”

The bulletin said that the treatise’s chapter on the office of bishop drew the criticism that it had completely overlooked bishops of titular dioceses, whereas “the episcopal function in itself is not tied to a particular place but to the service of the Church.”

The general treatment on the bishops was praised, however, “because it outlines more clearly the doctrine which teaches that the episcopate is a sacrament, by reason of which light is thrown on the whole doctrine of the priesthood. Thus the relationship between the bishop and his priests appears more clearly and the paternal character of the bishop is put more in evidence.”

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