Nature of the Church Is Focus As Meetings Resume

37th and 38th General Congregation
September 30 and October 1, 1963

The draft proposal “On the Nature of the Church” was accepted as a whole for detailed discussion by the second session of the ecumenical council by an overwhelming majority of council Fathers.

Five U.S. cardinals pose for a photo in St. Peter's Square following a meeting of the second session of the Second Vatican Council in 1963. From left are Cardinals John E. Ritter of St. Louis, James McIntyre of Los Angeles, Francis Spellman of New York, Richard Cushing of Boston and Albert Meyer of Chicago. (CNS file photo)

Five U.S. cardinals pose for a photo in St. Peter’s Square following a meeting of the second session of the Second Vatican Council in 1963. From left are Cardinals John E. Ritter of St. Louis, James McIntyre of Los Angeles, Francis Spellman of New York, Richard Cushing of Boston and Albert Meyer of Chicago. (CNS file photo)

The action was taken Oct. 1 at the second session’s second general meeting, with only 46 dissenting votes out of 2,301 Fathers present.

The vote meant that the Fathers agreed to go on to a discussion of the parts of the project. Technically, it could still be scrapped. But comments on the project taken as a whole were favorable without exception. This seems to guarantee that, when certain details are amended after discussion of the project’s parts, it will be given final approval.

The council got right down to business at its first working assembly.

It took up discussion of the draft document entitled “On the Church” on Sept. 30, the day after the second session was opened solemnly by Pope Paul VI.

A noteworthy change in the mechanics of the rules of procedure in the general assembly was the fact that the four newly appointed moderators presided, and not the members of the Presidency of the Council. Gregorio Cardinal Agagianian, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, was the first moderator to preside.

Comments on the project on the Church — “De Ecclesia” — were led by Joseph Cardinal Frings, Archbishop of Cologne and by Giuseppe Cardinal Siri, Archbishop of Genoa. The consensus appeared to be that the schema was generally acceptable. Several recommendations were made looking toward its improvement, however.

Cardinal Frings made a general reference to “some obscure points likely to give rise to doubt and uncertainty.” He also requested that more space be given in the schema to the Blessed Virgin Mary, even though the council will later take up for consideration a separate scheme concerning Mary as Mother of God and Mother of the Church.

A change in the title of the “De Ecclesia” schema was suggested by Cardinal Siri. It should not be simply “The Church,” he said, but rather “The Church of Christ.” He underlined his pleasure at seeing the schema express “the long-awaited declaration of the sacramental nature of the episcopal consecration.” He said, however, that this point should be further clarified and be assigned a theological note.

Notable in the business of the day was the announcement that on the following day, Tuesday, Oct. 1, discussion on the general acceptability of the project on the Church would be terminated and a vote taken.

Speakers on the first day in addition to Cardinals Frings and Siri included Armenian Rite Patriarch Ignace Pierre XVI Batanian of Cilicia; Archbishop Casimiro Morcillo of Saragossa, Spain; Archbishop Pierre Ngo dinh Thuc of Hue, Vietnam; Archbishop Ermenegildo Florit of Florence; and Bishop Giuseppe Gargitter of Bressanone, Italy.

The remarks of Archbishop Florit and of Bishop Gargitter represented criticism of the schema, although the two prelates said they favored it in general. They asserted that it insists too much on the equality of the members of the Church without sufficiently stressing the exercise of authority.

Bishop Gargitter further remarked that it is necessary to avoid any possible confusion concerning the “universal priesthood” of the people of God. In this context he said that it is likewise necessary to have a clearer and more profound formulation concerning the apostolate of the laity.

Archbishop Ngo dinh Thuc, brother of Vietnam’s President Ngo dinh Diem, complained that the schema does not provide an adequate presentation of the Church for non-Christians. The result, he said, is that the Church would remain for non-Christians an almost unintelligible organism. He made a strong recommendation that heads of non-Christian religions be invited to the council as observers.

In the middle of Archbishop Thuc’s remarks, Cardinal Agagianian called him to order because he was speaking about specifics in the schema, while the order of the day limited comments to the schema as a whole.

The bishops of the world had begun streaming into St. Peter’s square shortly after 8:30 a.m. Great crowds of people clustered at the several entrances to the square through which the bishops passed in automobiles and on foot.

Inside the basilica old friends greeted each other. Almost everyone, it seemed, stopped for a brief prayer at the tomb of St. Pius X, just to the left of the door inside the great church, and then paid visits to the Blessed Sacrament before taking their seats.

The assembly was called to order at 9:20 with the reading of the customary prayer, “Adsumus,” by Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, the first of the cardinals of the Presidency of the Council.

Mass according to the Ambrosian Rite — the Latin rite of the Archdiocese of Milan — was offered by Archbishop Giovanni Colombo, who succeeded Giovanni Cardinal Montini as Archbishop of Milan after his election to the papacy.

Prior to the discussion of the schema, Archbishop Pericle Felici, secretary general of the council, made several communications to the assembly.

He first proposed sending the following message to Pope Paul in the name of the council Fathers:

“At the opening of this general congregation may we be permitted to express our sentiments of filial devotion to him who in the first session of this council shared in our council work and was then taken from among us by the Holy Spirit and elected to the supreme ministry of the Catholic Church.

“Most Holy Father, last year your words directed us as a brother. Yesterday, the heart of a father opened up to us. May Your Holiness now deign to accept our most lively and joyful thanks for having wished to point out and to fervently recommend the course to be followed in our work. Through our prayers and our actions we hope and work together with Your Holiness that the Holy Catholic Church may appear before the entire world as the mystery of Christ and as the life of Christ Himself on earth.”

Archbishop Felici then explained the changes introduced into the rules and procedure of the council which had already been made known in the Pope’s Sept. 14 letter to Cardinal Tisserant, dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals. Translations of the explanation in five languages were then read by the council’s five undersecretaries. Archbishop John J. Krol of Philadelphia read the English translation.

Commenting on the 10-minute time limit which binds each speaker, Archbishop Felici said that a new system has been devised whereby a phone will ring near the microphone of a speaker after eight minutes are up.

This will be done, he said, “so that he will have two minutes to draw his conclusion and reach port” before his 10 minutes are up.

The council Fathers were also advised that they must reserve speaking time with the general secretariat three days in advance and must submit either a summary or a complete text of what they intend to say.

As to the rule of secrecy, he said that it extends to the work of the individual conciliar commissions and to the actual text of the schemata. He said nothing about the speeches of the Fathers in the general meetings.

The Archbishop added that the “greatest prudence and moderation are recommended to all the Fathers in all circumstances for anything connected with the work taking place in the council hall.”

He announced that no more appointments of council experts will be made since the number of those already designated is “sufficient to meet the needs of the council.”

He recalled that the first part of the schema or draft declaration “De Ecclesia” — the introduction and the first two chapters — was sent to the council Fathers during the interim between council sessions. He said that 372 amendments were proposed: one dealing with the title, nine with the introduction, 156 with the first chapter and 206 with the second chapter.

Attendance at the Sept. 30 meeting was 2,258. The meeting adjourned at 12:15.

Discussion at the second meeting was started by Raul Cardinal Silva Henriquez, S.D.B., Archbishop of Santiago, Chile, who said he was speaking in the name of 44 Latin American bishops.

After adding this group’s approval of the schema as a whole, he said that its third chapter, entitled “Of the People of God and Especially of the Laity,” should be divided into two separate chapters: one on “The People of God” and the other on the laity.

Cardinal Silva’s suggestions were already contained in a footnote to the schema which accepted this division. His speech therefore seemed designed merely to illustrate the reasons for the suggestion.

Echoing suggestions made on the previous day, Cardinal Silva urged that “there should also be a treatment of the Church finding its perfection in the saints and also a treatment of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”

The suggestion urging inclusion of a treatment of the Blessed Virgin was taken up by others, some saying that a separate schema on Our Lady would no longer be necessary if this were done, and others saying that the existing schema on the Blessed Virgin should be incorporated here.

Laurean Cardinal Rugambwa, Bishop of Bukoba, Tanganyika, took the floor next, speaking on behalf of the Bishops of Africa.

He said that there should be emphasis on the schema’s point that the missionary function of the Church is the same as that of the Incarnate Word, namely, the evangelization of the world.

He noted the schema refers to the missionary work of the Church, but complained that it is silent on the evangelization which is the Church’s essential function.

He said that the project seems to suppose that the Church is already a completed reality, whereas it is still in the process of organization and development. Consequently, he said, there is not enough emphasis on the missionary aspects of the Church, not with reference to the missionary apostolate in the ordinary sense of the word, but to the mission of the Universal Church. Hence, he concluded, the Church must regard itself as “missionary” always and everywhere.

The suggestion of the institution of an “Apostolic College” of the bishops of the world presided over by the Pope was contained in the remarks that followed of Ukrainian Rite Archbishop Maxim Hermaniuk, C.SS.R., of Winnipeg, Man.

He complained that the schema’s text is silent on the authority of the college of bishops over the universal Church. The power of the Roman Pontiff and of the college of bishops should be expressed by setting up a kind of “Apostolic College,” presided over by the Pope with patriarchs and cardinals, archbishops and bishops who are in charge of dioceses. Membership would be determined by norms to be composed at the proper time. It would have two secretariats, one for the Eastern Churches and one for the Latin Church.

The Archbishop’s suggestions were made as a commentary on the general character of the schema. Whether his specific suggestion of an “Apostolic College” would or would not be incorporated into the schema remained to be determined by the council’s Theological Commission.

Auxiliary Bishop Primo Gasbarri of Velletri, near Rome, noted that the chapter on the relationship between Church and State had been omitted.

A thorough treatment of this question, he said, would be useful, not only from a juridical but also from a pastoral point of view, both in nations where the Church is respected and in nations where it is persecuted.

The recommendation that an introductory section on the “Word of God” be added to the schema was made by Coadjutor Bishop Arthur Elchinger of Strasbourg, France.

It is the Divine Word, he said, which has founded and which guides the Church.

He favored bringing the essentially dynamic aspect of Tradition into bolder relief, showing it as a living and life-giving reality in the Church.

Other speakers of the day were: Archbishop Armando Fares of Catanzaro, Italy; Archbishop Adrian Djajascpoetra, S.J., of Djakarta, Indonesia; Bishop Sergio Mendez Arceo of Cuernavaca, Mexico; Father Giocondo M. Grotti, O.S.M., head of the independent Prelacy of Acre and Purus, Brazil; Bishop Joseph Guffens, S.J., Titular Bishop of Germaniciana; and Bishop Jose Pont y Gol of Segorbe-Castellon de la Plana, Spain.

When the last of the speakers had been heard, Michael Cardinal Browne, O.P., vice president of the Theological Commission, who presented the schema “On the Nature of the Church,” assured the assembly that the suggestions made had been noted for consideration by the Theological Commission. Then a vote on the schema as a whole was taken. The tally of the votes was: favorable, 2,231; unfavorable, 43; favorable with reservations, 3; invalid votes, 24.

Discussions on particulars of the schema began immediately with the observations of Ernesto Cardinal Ruffini, Archbishop of Palermo, Italy.

The Cardinal pointed out what he considered to be weaknesses and ambiguities in a number of words and phrases in the schema’s preface and first chapter.

Noteworthy among his comments were his references to the use of the word “sacrament” to describe the Church.

He pointed out that “sacrament” has both an ancient and a modem meaning. Use of the ancient meaning should be avoided here, he said, because it could lead to confusion in the minds of the faithful.

He also observed that the first chapter should discuss particularly the principle of Christian unity, namely the Eucharist, which is the center and foundation of unity, thus emphasizing the relationship between the Eucharist and the Church.

Msgr. James I. Tucek
NCWC Rome bureau chief

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