Tomorrow (10 Oct 2012) is the e-conference on ‘Vatican II – an Event of Grace’, and the day after (11 Oct 2012) the Year of Faith begins, so today is my last opportunity to ponder – without external influence – the role the documents of Vatican II and the Catechism of the Catholic Church have played in my life up to this point. The more I ponder, the more I am convinced of the necessity of this Year of Faith.
Towards the end of Vatican II the wonderful Grace of the Sacrament of Baptism was given to me, so I have lived my whole life under the influence of the Council and have no true concept of ‘before and after’. The earliest recollection I have is of long thin green Mass booklets with Latin in one column and English in the other. In many ways I feel hampered in my understanding of the Second Vatican Council because I’ve only seen it through the lens of hindsight and not in its full cultural context at the early 1960s.
As a youngster you tend to ‘go with the flow’ with whatever is happening in the Church because at that age you don’t know what the other options are. Thus I lived through hymns with catechetical content being thrown out in favour of folk hymns, and all sorts of youth Masses that were helpful at the time but which I would probably shudder at today. Many things were proposed and done in the name of ‘Vatican II’ that all seemed wonderful and exciting at the time, but which a reading of the actual documents would shown to be false interpretations. With a bit of age and wisdom I now carefully check to see whether anyone commenting on Vatican II actually provides quotations to back up their claims.
The sad thing is that with so many documents produced by the Council Fathers and the Post Conciliar Fathers the majority of us were more than willing for someone else to read them for us and to give us the gist of the message. Even sadder is the fact that the documents are, and remain, inspiring masterpieces of Church teaching which few people have ever read and appreciated. My ‘Flannery edition’ copy of the documents dates from the early 1980s and at that time I did read a few of them and found them full of truth, beauty and wisdom, but I eventually got bogged down in the less interesting bits and stopped reading. Since that time of enthusiasm I have to admit that I haven’t referred to the documents except when there has been an interpretation problem or point of controversy that required going back to the sources. Many were the years that the book didn’t get opened at all. The sections I have looked into the most have been the ones on Liturgy and the Church.
If I am an example of average moderately well-read Catholic, then the encouragement of the Holy Father, via the Year of Faith, to get familiar with the Documents of Vatican II is more than timely. Only by reading through these treasures for ourselves can our minds come into conformity with the true thinking of the Church and of the mind of Christ. Only by reading for ourselves can we receive the sacred deposits of truth and wisdom and pass them on faithfully to the generations to come.
It is a similarly sad story with the Catechism of the Catholic Church. As soon as it was (finally!) translated into English a copy was obtained for our home. I’ve tried to read it starting from the front, but as I may have mentioned before, got bogged down in the section of the Creed referring to the Ascension of Jesus – not even 25% through. On Thursday night, with the encouragement of the Year of Faith, I will begin again where I left off. Apart from the times when I have needed finer points on the Sacraments for sacramental preparation classes or the times that sections on Prayer have been read in conjunction with a Medjugore novena, the Catechism has largely sat on the shelf. Once in a while a question will come up in conversation and I’ll go searching in the Catechism for an authoritative answer. In the Index has proved very useful, but it has to be used creatively. The subject headings in the index never seem to have the same words that the question was framed in, so the mental thesaurus of ‘church-speak’ gets put to work, new index words are consulted and generally an answer is eventually found.
Reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church is one of those ‘I must get around to it’ things on the lifetime ‘to do’ list. After all it is the fruit of the Holy Spirit inspired deliberations of the Council Fathers and countless other holy and saintly servants of God from all the centruries of the Christian era. So it is with gratitude that come Thursday and the beginning of the Year of Faith that I start again to read it. At home it will just be a page or so a day, but at the study group (www.ofgraceandfaith.blogspot.com) it will be 3-5 pages a week. Having started preparing for the pages on Baptism from paragraphs 1210-1228 I am already beginning to appreciate what a gift of Grace this study will be. Today I started looking up the footnote references that captured my imagination most, and came to a whole new appreciation for St Thomas Aquinas, St Ambrose and St Gregory Nazianzen and for the sacrament of Baptism itself.
The stream of Graces that the Year of Faith is offering us through taking the time to read, ponder and implement the contents of Vatican II and the Catechism begin to flow on Thursday. What a crying shame it would be if that stream of Graces passed us by without our obtaining some for ourselves! What a renewal the Church would undergo if each member took the challenge of the Year of Faith seriously! Who knows when the next major encouragement to study the major non-Scripture documents of our Faith will come again? If you, like me, haven’t read much from them, then it is necessary that we take this precious and privileged opportunity with both hands if we want to serve God and His Church not only with our hearts but with our minds as well.
Our Lady, Mother of the Church, pray for us.