Council Turning Point: A Day When Character of Church Begins to Change

58th General Congregation
October 30, 1963

The ecumenical council Fathers have voted overwhelmingly to give bishops a larger role in governing the Church and to restore the ancient order of deacons.

The Fathers’ Oct. 30 general meeting, guaranteeing a declaration of the collegiality of the bishops and restoration of the permanent diaconate, was a council turning point. Future historians may recall it as the day whose decisions began a change in the external character of the Church.

During the day the Fathers also stepped up the council’s pace. They closed debate on the fourth chapter of the schema on the nature of the Church, entitled “Call to Holiness in the Church.” That left only the schema’s new chapter on Our Lady, now being prepared, to be discussed and debate on the council’s most important and difficult schema would be completed.

It appeared well within the range of possibility that amendments on the schema on the Church could be presented and passed on before the end of the council’s second session on Dec. 4. While the chapter on Our Lady is being drawn up, the council was expected to take up the schema “On Bishops and the Government of Dioceses.”

The Fathers’ approval of the collegiality of bishops and the diaconate came as they voted on five questions. The vote was taken to guide the council Theological Commission in revising the second chapter on the schema on the Church which deals with the hierarchy.

The five questions, with the voting results, are:

1. Whether episcopal consecration is the highest grade of the Sacrament of Holy Orders: yes, 2,123; no, 34.

2. Whether every bishop, who is in union with all the bishops and the pope, belongs to the body or college of bishops: yes, 2,049; no, 104.

3. Whether the college of bishops succeeds the college of Apostles and, together with the pope, has full and supreme power over the whole Church: yes, 1,808; no, 336

4. Whether the college of bishops, in union with the pope, has this power by divine right: yes, 1,717; no, 408.

5. Whether the diaconate should be restored as a distinct and permanent rank in the sacred ministry: yes, 1,588; no, 525.

At the American bishops’ press panel following the meeting Father Gregory Baum, OSA, of Toronto, council expert, noted that the vote in favor of the five points was “an inestimable aid and support of the position of the moderators.” He said that the successful use of this procedural device would enable moderators in the future to discover the majority feeling of the council Fathers on a particular subject without the need for hearing an interminable multiplication of speakers.

Father Bernard Haering, CSSR, another council expert, forecast that “the tactical results of this vote” would probably make themselves felt much more in the coming debate of the schema “On Bishops and the Government of Dioceses.” He explained this by saying that in the coming debate there is a question of the relations of episcopal conferences with the Universal Church. The determination of a position on the collegiality of all bishops, he said, would reflect on the question.

Bishop John J. Wright of Pittsburgh, a member of the Theological Commission, told the press panel that the vote on the five points would make it “enormously easier” for the subcommission dealing with the collegiality of bishops to revise the chapter. He said that the Theological Commission is now in a position to subdivide itself into subcommissions, as it has already done in order to take points under consideration and reorganize the schema.

At the same general meeting the Fathers also passed three final amendments to Chapter VII of the liturgy schema which deals with sacred music. They were:

A recommendation that, particularly in mission areas, local traditional music be used with the liturgy.

A statement that pipe organs should be considered the traditional liturgical instrument for music in the Latin Rite.

A reminder that those who compose Church music must be filled with the Christian spirit and must cultivate the ideals of sacred music.

Paul Cardinal Leger of Montreal, noting that the text refers specifically only to the married state, said it should also bring in other phases of life: work, politics, culture, leisure, which all “must be marked with the pursuit of holiness.”

“There can be no real spiritual life of the laity,” he continued, “without an increase in the number of educated laymen, even in the field of the sacred sciences.

“Such laymen should be invited to teach in ecclesiastical faculties and seminaries.”

Giovanni Cardinal Urbana of Venice said that in the council’s explanation of the Church on earth and its beauty, “we should not lose sight of the Church in heaven, since it is the noblest and lasting part of the Church.”

Fernando Cardinal Cento, Grand Penitentiary, said that the council should pass a resolution asking the Sacred Congregation of Rites to beatify and canonize more laymen to encourage the laity to strive harder for sanctity.

Bishop Gerard Huyghe of Arras, France, said that the way the text of the chapter uses the term “evangelical counsels — poverty, chastity and obedience — gives the impression that the spirituality of the laity is only an interior participation in these counsels, while they are in fact fully proper to all Christians.”

“Great hopes have been placed in the council,” said Bishop Rene Fourrey of Belley, France, “by that group of the faithful who, especially in the ranks of Catholic action, try to serve God and their neighbor while staying in the lay state, adapted to the background of today’s world. It is regrettable that the text says nothing about the kind of sanctity expected of these dedicated souls.”

Archbishop William Conway of Armagh, Ireland, said that in general the text was good, but he complained that “it has a basic defect in that it says nothing on prayer, its necessity and its methods, especially as regards the laity …. This is a most important point today when too many people would make holiness consist in activity.”

Richmond’s Bishop John J. Russell said: “Before taking up the question of sanctity in the members of the Church, the text should speak of the essential sanctity of the Church. … We know that the Church has sinners in its ranks, that there are scandals among persons consecrated to God, apostasies, racial discrimination and the like.

“Unless we distinguish these two aspects of sanctity, we are open to the charge that our insistence on sanctity in the Church is only an attempt to whitewash the facts.”

Coadjutor Archbishop Angelo Fernandes of Delhi, India, said that this schema on the nature of the Church should treat holiness in a general way and that the specific characters of each state of life should be considered in the schema on the hierarchy.

“The schema presents the episcopal order as a model of holiness,” declared Bishop Frane Franic of Split, Yugoslavia, “yet this is not borne out by the facts. The cause of a lack of sanctity in bishops today is a lack of evangelical poverty. Just as Trent [the Council of Trent (1545-63)] insisted on the obligation of celibacy for bishops, so the Second Vatican Council should effectively renew the spirit of poverty. The council should determine the concrete forms of poverty for bishops, not excluding a vow of poverty. …

“In the ordination to the diaconate there should be a special provision for the obligation of poverty, and the practice of many secular priests who make private vows in the hands of their bishops should be encouraged.”

Bishop Sebastiao Soares de Resenda of Beira, Mozambique, made the point that the text uses the expression “states of perfection to be acquired.” This is ill chosen “since all Christians are called to sanctity,” he said.

It would be more proper, he added, “to state that the whole of Christian life is a state of perfection to be acquired through the letter and the spirit of the counsels of Christ.”

“It is not true to say that all men are called to one and the same sanctity,” said Bishop Dominique Hoang van Doang, OP, of Quinhon, Vietnam. “Man is free and uses God’s grace in different ways, so it is impossible for all men to achieve one and the same sanctity.”

Archabbot Benedict Reetz, OSB, of the Beuron Benedictine congregation, cited examples to prove that Religious have served the Church well and argued that the exemption of Religious in dioceses should not be tampered with.

Msgr. James I. Tucek
NCWC News Rome bureau chief

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One Response to Council Turning Point: A Day When Character of Church Begins to Change

  1. Pingback: News Digest Nov. 10, 2013 | Novus Ordo Watch

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