Two laymen, one French and the other Italian, took the floor of the council (Dec. 3) to speak of the need for ecumenism and of the role of the laymen in the Church in the presence of Pope Paul VI and more than 2,000 bishops.
The rare occasion for laymen to address the assembled bishops of the council took place during a commemorative session marking the fourth centenary of the Council of Trent. The speakers were French writer Jean Guitton and Italian Vittorino Veronese, long a leader in the field of Catholic Action.
Guitton said his vocation to the ecumenical movement “is founded on meditation on the reasons which, in the Gospel of St. John, Jesus gives for His sacrifice and on the certitude that this will of Christ is effective and that we must cooperate in it with our whole being.”
He warned against two false approaches to ecumenism.
He cautioned against one approach which would retain “solely that which is common to all Christians or which prepares a new super-church said to be the synthesis of the historical churches.” Rather than accept this approach, he said, “true religious spirits prefer the solitude of disunion to an equivocal union” which offends truth.
The second approach referred to was “immobilism,” which holds that “the Catholic Church must restrict herself to waiting for the return and the submission of the churches which have broken the link of unity. But unity is a link of love, and love compels us to unity,” he said.
Guitton said ecumenism “demands two complementary sacrifices.”
On the one hand, Catholics themselves must respond “with a humble, magnanimous and sorrowful effort of purification so as to remove from the face of the Church the lines which mar her eternal youth. The blood which achieves unity cannot be shed on one side only.”
He also said it must be stressed that “the Catholic Church is entrusted with the task of announcing to the world that she is the only church as willed by her Divine Founder.”
Yet this must not obscure the fact that Catholics must realize that unity will be perfect only when the legitimate forms of Christian and human diversity have once more found their place and their just freedom in the bosom of the Church.
Guitton then conjured up a vision, saying:
“Let us imagine, venerable brothers, that all our separated brothers wanted to enter tomorrow the Catholic basilica.
“She would widen her nave, she would open up her cupola, she would make her useless ornaments, her antiquities disappear, so that everyone should feel at ease in her sublime simplicity. She would preserve the same form, the same essence, the same structure. Nothing that is essential in dogma, in worship and in authority would be modified. But this same inalterable form, enriched by so many contributions and so many sorrows, would then have its flowering, its perfect plenitude, I might even say its anticipated glory. What a testimony this would be in the face of the world!”
Guitton told the bishops that “this unity of Christians is contained in the prayer of the Eternal Christ and where is the religious man who does not desire it from the depths of his heart? It will be achieved through ways which are unknown to us and which are being prepared while we remain unaware of them, the great events in history. So many converging prayers rise toward God! So many lives have been offered on one side and the other for unity!”
He concluded by saying: “May graces be given to you for listening to a layman speaking of his experience. He has done it fearlessly like a son before his father in whom he places all his hope!”
Veronese thanked the Pope for including laymen as auditors of the council. He said such a recognition affords laymen the opportunity of being “the interpreters of that Catholic laity which otherwise we would not have known how to represent.”
Noting that the bishops of the council are returning home, Veronese said: “We too return to our neighbors. … We return to our parishes and to our families” to update the spiritual and corporal works of mercy as demanded by the problems of the times.