Council’s Twofold Activity: Voting on Liturgy While Debating Church’s Nature

52nd General Congregation
October 21, 1963

Reform of the breviary entered its final phase in the council as the Fathers voted and passed the first two of 13 amendments to the fourth chapter of the liturgical schema.

Discussion on the council floor, however, continued on another matter — the third chapter of the schema on the nature of the Church, which deals with the laity.

In the discussion part of the council’s twofold activity — that is, of voting on one schema and debating another — a new element was raised. Both inside and outside the council there was growing insistence upon inserting (or as some said, “replacing”) a consideration of relations between Church and State.

At the same time — now outside the council hall but seemingly ready to be introduced also into the council debates — a proposal was in preparation to include a statement on the right of the human person to the free exercise of religion according to the dictates of his personal conscience.

As one bishop stated the case: “It would be a cause of wonderment, not to say scandal, if the council were to fail to speak of the question or to speak of it in obscure and ambiguous terms.”

The vote in the council was on these two amendments to Chapter IV of the schema on liturgy:

1. An emphasis on the fact that Christ continues His priestly activities through the Church, not only in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, but also in other ways, especially in the Divine Office, which is both praise of the Father and prayer for divine help for the salvation of the world.

2. An addition to the text of an exhortation to all who recite the Divine Office to fulfill this duty with great fervor and devotion, whether this recitation be by clerics, Religious, or lay people saying it with them.

Both amendments passed almost unanimously. A lesser unanimity of vote was anticipated on the amendments which were immediately to follow with their proposal for radical change in the breviary.

The 52nd general congregation opened, as the council does daily, with celebration of the Mass. This day’s Eucharist was offered in the Byzantine-Rumanian Rite by Bishop Vasile Cristea, Apostolic Visitor for Rumanians abroad, and marked the 265th anniversary of the reunion of Rumanian Christians with the Holy See as well as the 15th anniversary of the destruction of the Catholic Rumanian Rite by civil authorities of communist Rumania.

The day’s work began with Bishop Joseph Martin of Nicolet, Que., reporting on behalf of the council’s Liturgical Commission on reasons for the amendments on which the Fathers were being asked to vote. He stressed that the commission had been confronted with radically different proposals, sometimes even contradictory suggestions, and that its decision was to attempt to steer a middle course, since no extreme position could ever hope to receive the necessary two-thirds majority.

Because Bishop Martin’s report was unusually long, there remained time in this assembly to hear only eight of the scheduled speakers. The first speaker of the day was Albert Cardinal Meyer of Chicago, who said that the presentation of the matter in the chapter on the people of God was neither adequate nor realistic. “It loses sight of the important fact,” he said, “that first of all, we are all sinners, and that, secondly, even after Baptism we suffer from moral weakness and sometimes even fall.

“The schema should not speak only of the privileges of the people of God, but should emphasize very strongly the difficulties of leading a genuinely Christian life. This difficulty is first of all an internal one: the consequences of original sin with the tendencies to evil. There is also an external cause, which is the Devil.

“This is why we have two different and somewhat contradictory aspects of the earthly human life of the people of God: it is heavenly, leading to glory in the Kingdom of God, and it is a life of struggle and battle in an effort to achieve this eternal goal.

“This basic truth was stressed by Christ Himself. It is a theme recurring frequently in our liturgical texts, and mindfulness of our weakness and ignorance inspires a passage in the very prayer we recite before our daily council sessions.

“We must work with a sense of sin and personal weakness; there should be a paragraph proclaiming that the Church is a home for the weak and struggling before we describe the Church as being without stain or wrinkle.”

At the American bishops’ press panel session following the council assembly, Father Gustave Wiegel, S.J., of Woodstock (Md.) College discussed Cardinal Meyer’s note on the “Church of sinners.” Father Weigel said that while he thought Protestants would welcome such an emphasis in the schema, he did not think the Chicago Cardinal had the ecumenical aspect particularly in mind. He supposed, rather, that the Archbishop of Chicago wanted to stress the Church’s role as a refuge of sinful man.

The question of restoring the permanent diaconate was raised again by Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani, Secretary of the Congregation of the Holy Office, who was next to speak. He returned to the problem of deacons even though discussion on this subject was terminated Oct. 16.

He opposed the permanent diaconate and proposed in its place the minor order of acolyte. Acolytes, he said, could be deputized for the performance of certain ecclesiastical functions in areas where there is a shortage of priests. There would be no problem of acolytes’ celibacy as there is in the case of deacons, he said.

In his remarks Cardinal Ottaviani also complained about three experts in the council hall whom he accused, without naming them, of circulating a petition in support of the permanent diaconate. He complained that this was contrary to council regulations. A serious accusation was leveled by the next speaker, Archbishop Raymond Tchidimbo, C.S.Sp., of Conakry, Guinea. He did not specify the accused — or at least it was not reported in the council press office communiqué.

“It would be well for international Catholic organizations,” said Archbishop Tchidimbo, “to be on their guard against a tendency to dominate those units of the Church for which they provide essential financial and other assistance. Such a dominating mentality would simply be a new form of colonialism. As the price of their assistance they should not try to control the apostolate in the countries they aid. After all, the first specialist in the apostolate in a diocese is always the bishop.”

Father Weigel noted that Guinea’s Archbishop Tchidimbo, in following Cardinal Ottaviani, went to the microphone and elaborated on the usual salutation. After greeting the “Most Eminent Cardinals,” etc., he added: “and very beloved experts.” At this, said Father Weigel, Cardinal Ottaviani threw back his head and laughed.

Father Godfrey Diekmann, O.S.B., council expert from St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Minn., and editor of the monthly review Worship, commented on the suggestion about restoring the order of acolyte.

“In the early Church,” said the Benedictine, “acolytes could carry and administer the Eucharist to those in prison, as did St. Pancratius. The history of the minor orders in the early Church, however, is a ‘jungle,’ and not enough theological research has yet been carried out on them.”

The council speaker who followed Archbishop Tchidimbo, Archbishop Thomas B. Cooray, O.M.I., of Colombo, Ceylon, talked more on the point under discussion. He urged that the schema text make a clearer distinction between the priesthood of the laity and the priesthood of the hierarchy.

“It would be better,” Archbishop Cooray said, “not to speak of the universal priesthood of the laity and of the ministerial priesthood of the hierarchy, but rather of the spiritual priesthood of the laity and the sacramental priesthood of the church’s official ministers. …

“The priesthood of the laity and the priesthood of the hierarchy both aim at the same goal, namely the sanctification of the Church. But, whereas the hierarchical priesthood operates through sacramental means, the priesthood of the laity works through such spiritual means as prayer, apostolic activity and the radiation of sanctity in personal and social life.”

Bishop Karol Wojtyla, administrator of Poland’s Archdiocese of Cracow, made the point that “it is essential to stress the fact that laity do not fulfill their duties as members of the people of God by being satisfied with mere passive possession of the Faith.”

The issue of Church and State was raised by Archbishop Denis E. Hurley, O.M.I., of Durban, South Africa. He urged that the “treatment of the relationships between the earthly city and the heavenly city needs to be clarified.”

He continued: “We should not speak so much of ‘Church and State’ as of  ‘the Church and human society.’ The term ‘state’ indicates a political unit. ‘Human society’ takes in all men wherever they may be and whatever be their form of government.

“Our text should try to show our people how they are to combine in Christian fashion the activities which bring them into contact with the two aspects of their life — that is to say, Christian and civil. All, even apparently purely civil activities, must bear the stamp of the influence of a Christian conscience. No actions are exclusively of the temporal order.”

Archbishop Adam Kozlowiecki, S.J., of Lusaka, Northern Rhodesia, complained that “the expression indicating complete equality among all members of the Church could easily give rise to confusion and misunderstanding. The definition of the layman is defective and negative.” He urged “bishops be admonished in still stronger terms not to ‘extinguish the spirit’ by ignoring or belittling the suggestions of the faithful.”

The observation was made by Bishop Juan Hervas y Benet of Ciudad Real, Spain, that the text is basically weak for its failure to stress the importance of a deeply Christian life as the foundation for all apostolic activities.

Msgr. James I. Tucek
NCWC Rome bureau chief

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