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In the wake of the Second Vatican Council

In the Homily given during the Chrism Mass that ushers in the Sacred Triduum in the Heart of the of the Christian liturgical year, Benedict XVI asked himself – talking about the priesthood and referring explicitly to a summons to disobedience issued by a group of priests with regard to  “definitive decisions of the Magisterium” –  whether disobedience is a path of renewal for the Church. And then, taking the side of the questioning party in his usual way, he asked  whether on the contrary such reflections might not serve simply to defend inertia and fossilize traditions.

The Pope's answer, as always, was neither evasive nor generic: “No. Anyone who considers the history of the post-conciliar era can recognize the process of true renewal”. He described this renewal as  articulated  in four dimensions, namely: “being filled with the joy of faith, the radicalism of obedience, the dynamic of hope and the power of love”.  Therefore disobedience is not the path, but nor is fossilization. Benedict XVI historicized his answer, alluding to the half century that has passed since the opening of the Second Vatican Council and referring implicitly to the logic of reform contrasted with that of rupture which he had evoked for the members of the Roman Curia in his fundamental discourse on 22 December 2005.  “The hermeneutic of discontinuity is countered by the hermeneutic of reform, as it was first presented by Pope John XXIII in his speech inaugurating the Council on 11 October 1962 and later by Pope Paul VI in his Discourse for the Council's conclusion on 7 December 1965”.

Thus the Pontiff  summons the entire community of the faithful to the legacy of the Second Vatican Council – novissimus , that is, the most recent in the series of Councils and consistent with them all,  in accordance with the living tradition of the Church, open to the future in expectation of the coming of the Lord. In an epoch which Benedict XVI, citing the recent analysis by various cardinals and without mincing his words, described as marked by the “growing religious illiteracy found in the midst of our sophisticated society”. Here then – fifty years after the opening of the most important religious event of the nineteenth century – is the Year of Faith, an opportunity to proclaim him with zeal and joy. Without being afraid of using terms that are out of fashion, such as, specifically, “zeal” or “soul”, combined in the phrase animarum zelus which has practically fallen into disuse and which instead the Pope is proposing to priests so that they may be truly close to every person and show them the face of Christ.

It is a clear and gentle reflection, which once again blots out the stereotype of a weak pope who does not govern the Church; while on this very day the long document of the International Theological Commission on theology today, already accessible in English on the Vatican website , is being disseminated in Italy. Drafted by this institution – desired in 1969 by Paul VI who  immediately wanted to include in it the 42-year-old Joseph Ratzinger,  then teaching at the University of Regensburg – the text also begins with a generally positive evaluation of the renewal impressed on theology by the Second Vatican Council, insisting at the same time on the need for a “common discourse”: in communion with the Church to offer Christ's truth to the men and women of today.




St. Peter’s Square

Sept. 22, 2019