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Pope John called for a new Pentecost: are the new movements God's reply and the true expression of Vatican II?

by Fr Ian Ker

I think it is time to say that there is a very widespread sense of disillusion among Catholics about the situation in which the Church now finds herself. Conservatives, while accepting the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, deplore many of the things that have happened since the Council. Liberals, on the other hand, resent that there have not been more changes of the kind that they regard as legitimate developments of Vatican II.

There are, however, a growing number of Catholics who belong to neither of these two groups. I refer to the members of the new so-called "
movements", which, interestingly enough, tend to be regarded by both conservative and liberal Catholics with suspicion, if not hostility. These movements are usually called "lay movements" but this is a very misleading misnomer, since their members in fact include priests and religious as well.

Indeed, it is that very fact which I consider to be so significant. After all, whether we think of the pre-Vatican II clerical Church, in which the laity were second-class citizens, or of the contemporary Church in which the rights of the laity are so much talked about, what is taken for granted is that the Church is divided into clergy and laity, with religious as a slightly awkward appendage, Not only is the Church constantly defined in these terms, but a polarity and tension are also assumed to exist almost of necessity.

A couple of years ago I was preparing a lecture on Newman's
On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine. It was reprinted a few years ago with a foreward by the late Archbishop Worlock, in which he took it for granted that this classic text is about the laity in the Church. This indeed is such a common misapprehension that it is sometimes called by mistake "On Consulting the Laity in Matters of Doctrine". Now, like all misunderstandings, there is obviously some truth in it.

Newman was indeed appalled by how clerical the Church had become in the 19th century, and the essay certainly arose out of his view that the bishops should be willing to consult lay opinion over matters that affected the laity. It is also, of course, true that in the course of the article he often refers to the laity. But as I re-read
On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine; I became aware that what Newman is really talking about are rather "the faithful", that is, faithful baptised Christians.

Newman's first book had been on the Arian heresy in the 4th century, and here he employs his scholarship to show that the faith does not belong to the bishops alone, who at this most critical time in the Church's history largely failed to teach and uphold the orthodox doctrine. But as I read through the many examples he gives from the primary sources, it dawned on me that much of the evidence he cites shows that among the faithful are to be included both priests and religious. Indeed, when Newman came to reproduce the substance of the article many years later in an appendix to his book on the Arians, he paradoxically and remarkably includes the clergy among the laity! These are his words: "
And again, in speaking of the Laity, I speak inclusively of their parish priests (so to call them), at least in many places; but …we are obliged to say that the governing body of the Church came short…" In those days, of course, the parochial system had not yet been established and priests were called presbyters. Nor had the term "religious" yet been coined, but there were a number of "monks" and "holy virgins" among the instances Newman cites of the faithful upholding of the Catholic faith against the Arianising bishops.

In other words, in this famous article Newman is really talking about bishops on the one hand and all the baptised faithful, including priests and religious as well as laity, on the other hand. What does it all matter? It matters because Newman is here looking at the Church which had not yet become clericalised and which therefore does not really have the concept of the laity as such. Of course, I am not saying that the word "
lay" did not exist from patristic times to denote someone who was not ordained. But I am suggesting that our modem preoccupation with the laity arises out of an overly clerical idea of the Church.

Although, as I have said, Newman does not use the word laity, when he is true to his patristic sources, he is, as the title of the article indicates, really talking about what the Second Vatican Council's constitution on the Church,
Lumen Gentium, calls "The whole body of the faithful", and citing St Augustine, "the whole people . . . from the bishops to the last of the faithful". He is drawing attention to the fact that in the crisis of the Arian heresy, that part of the faithful, that is, the bishops, which has the primary responsibility for proclaiming and safeguarding the faith, to a significant extent failed to do so. But since the faith belongs to the whole body of the faithful and not only the bishops, it was preserved by the other parts of the faithful - the laity but also the clergy and religious.

The refusal of the bishops of Vatican II to accept the draft constitution on the Church prepared by the Roman Curia was undoubtedly the turningpoint in the Council. But my impression is that many people seem to think that the Council substituted a democratic model of the Church for the old Tridentine hierarchical model. I believe there is a widespread assumption that
Lumen Gentium begins with "The People of God", which is in fact the subject of the second chapter, and that 'The People of God" is synonymous with the laity. The clear implication of this misinterpretation is that the hierarchy is answerable to the laity in the same sort of way that a democratically elected government is answerable to the electorate.

In reality, the first chapter of
Lumen Gentium is called 'The Mystery of the Church", and begins by defining the Church as being "in the nature of sacrament". The Church, then, is primarily sacramental, not hierarchical, let alone democratic. Explaining why the Church is the primordial sacrament, the Council goes on to say that "the Spirit dwells in the Church and in the hearts of the faithful as in a temple". The Spirit also bestows "upon her varied hierarchic and charismatic gifts". It is very important that hierarchy and charisms are linked together, both seen as proceeding from the Spirit. For among the "gifts" given by the Spirit to the Body of Christ, "the primary belongs to the grace of the Apostles to whose authority the Spirit himself subjects even those who are endowed with charisms". But while the apostolic authority in the Church which authenticates the other charisms is clearly stated, nevertheless it is noteworthy how absent is any reference to either clergy or laity in this chapter.

The same is effectively true of chapter II. 'The People of God" are those "
who believe in Christ" and who "are reborn…from water and the Holy Spirit" in Baptism. In this "messianic people" the Spirit "dwells in a temple". The baptised constitute "a holy priesthood", although this "common priesthood of the faithful" is carefully distinguished "essentially and not only in degree" from "the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood". Now this "priestly community is brought into operation through the sacraments". First mentioned are naturally the so-called sacraments of initiation - baptism, confirmation, and eucharist - which all the members of the People of God receive; then penance and anointing are mentioned, also sacraments which all the faithful would normally receive at some point or points in their lives; and then finally the two remaining sacraments which not all the faithful do receive - holy orders and marriage. It is striking how the clergy are placed right among the ordinary members of the People of God who receive the sacraments of the Church, which is itself of the nature of a sacrament -"Those among the faithful who have received Holy Orders . . ." Again, the Holy Spirit is emphasised, who not only makes possible the sacraments but "distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank". And although these charisms have to be tested by "those who have charge over the Church", this chapter studiously avoids talking in terms of clergy and laity. In other words, it breathes the atmosphere of the scriptural and patristic Church rather than the Church Catholics had become accustomed to over the centuries, and are still accustomed to - although people like those who belong to groups like "We Are Church" seem to wish to replace a clerical with a lay Church.

In fact, it is not till chapter IV that
Lumen Gentium begins to treat of the laity as such. There are inevitably inconsistencies and tensions in Conciliar texts, and nowhere more so than here. For what is so remarkable about this chapter is its singular lack of any sign of that ressourcement or retrieval of the scriptural and patristic sources which lies at the heart of that theological renewal without which Vatican II would not have been possible. The chapter begins by saying it intends to speak of Christians who are called the "laity", but, interestingly, no references are given to support the usage. Such scriptural references as there are do not refer to the "laity" as such because of course the word and concept were unknown to the New Testament writers. Significantly, there is only one reference to the Fathers, a famous quotation from a sermon of St Augustine: "To you I am the bishop, with you I am a Christian." Inevitably, the authorities that this chapter relies on for the idea of the laity are modem papal statements. In other words, we are back in the familiar clerical Church where the rights of the laity have to be upheld.

After Vatican II it was fashionable to talk about "
implementing" the Council, and certain reforms could indeed be implemented by the authorities. But surely history teaches us that the development and life of the Church cannot be understood without the charisms bestowed by the Holy Spirit.

In particular, we can see three great charismatic movements of the Spirit: the rise of monasticism in the early centuries, the advent of the friars in the Middle Ages, and then in the 16th Century the charism above all of St Ignatius of Loyola. We might even wonder if Trent could have been implemented without the Jesuits, the first of many active orders of priests (and nuns) who, free of the restraints of the cloister and the choral office, were so largely responsible for creating the kind of Church that had developed up to Vatican II.

According to
Lumen Gentium, the charisms have to be subject to apostolic authority. But again history shows us that it is the highest apostolic authority, the papacy, which has often been more innovative and radical in discerning and encouraging new charisms in the Church than has the more conventional and parochial episcopate which cannot have the same overview of the universal Church.

And what is so striking at this point in history is the deep interest of Pope John Paul II in the new movements. Indeed, a book appeared a few years ago, written by a liberal Catholic, called
The Pope's Armada, which attacks the movements and the papal involvement in them.

In a recent article the same author has drawn attention to important initiatives undertaken by the Holy See, including particularly the meeting the Pope had at Pentecost last year in St Peter's Square with no less than half a million members of over 60 of the movements, in which John Paul II called them "
a reply raised up by the Holy Spirit" to the challenges of the new millennium. One wonders if the Pope remembered John XXIII's prayer that the Council would lead to a new Pentecost.

After the definition of papal infallibility at Vatican I, there appeared the phenomenon of so-called "
creeping infallibility". Perhaps after Vatican II, at which by contrast the role of the bishops as members with the Pope of the apostolic college was emphasised, a parallel "creeping episcopalism" appeared.

Because many bishops came away from the Council with the idea that bishops and laity were now the important players as opposed to the Pope whose wings had been clipped and the priests who were at the bottom of the Council's agenda, there seems to have grown up the idea that the bishops together with the laity would now effectively be making the running.

Lay people appointed by the bishops, sat on committees and commissions and were increasingly employed by dioceses. Who were these lay people? Well, they certainly weren't children (the prophetic child who called out. for the catechumen Ambrose to be Bishop of Milan would not have been considered eligible for a parish council) nor were they uneducated people.

Instead, for the most part these professional lay people are articulate and middle class. I do not wish to denigrate the work done by such people in parishes and dioceses, but only to point out that the charisms of the faithful are not to be confined to people who are good at sitting on committees.

Significantly, the Pope reminded the English and Welsh bishops at their last ad limina visit that the baptised have other charisms apart from helping the clergy in their clerical and ecclesiastical functions in "
collaborative ministry".

If we look around the world today, there are only two kinds of Christianity - which are flourishing and growing - the evangelical and pentecostal churches and the Catholic movements. What they have in common is that they are both strong faith communities.

Like the early Church they spread because people are drawn both by their faith and by the community they offer; the two are intertwined. I mention the early Church deliberately because in my view the most important texts of Vatican II are those combined first two chapters of
Lumen Gentium which recall the Church to a new, or rather old scriptural and patristic, vision of the Church. That return is the real revolution the Council achieved.

As I have said, after the Council too many people forgot that its deepest "
implementation" must be by the Holy Spirit.

And I am convinced that the movements are the implementation, the fleshing out of those crucial two first chapters. They no more arose out of episcopal conferences and committees than St Francis received his call from the Bishop of Assisi.

I end with two connected points about the movements, the only one of which I know from personal experience being Youth 2000 which actually began in this country and has spread to other countries.

First, what I have found as a priest associated with it, and I have heard the same about the other movements, is that while ministerial priesthood, is deeply respected for its sacramental and preaching roles, there is absolutely no clericalism. But secondly, on the other, hand there is no preoccupation either with being "
the laity", with "collaborative ministry", and with sharing in "decision-making". This is because it is the priests who are the collaborators if anybody is, and because they only make the "decisions" that are appropriate to their sacramental and teaching role.

Experiencing a movement like Youth 2000 is to realise the meaning of St Paul's words: "
Now you together are Christ's body; but each of you is a different part of it. In the Church, God has given the first place to Apostles, the second to prophets, the third to teachers; after them miracles, and after them the gift of healing; helpers, good leaders, those with many languages."

It is this apostolic and charismatic rather than clerical-lay institutional Church which the movements have succeeded in recovering for the next millennium. It is their charisms which will be foremost in implementing the real ecclesiology of Vatican II.

The recent Youth 2000 festival at Walsingham drew over 1000 young people, not all of whom could pay the cost.

Donations would be gratefully received by Youth 2000, 36 Church Drive, East Keswick, Leeds, LS 17 9EP.

Fr Ian Ker is parish priest of SS John Fisher and Thomas More, Burford.


Breathing life into the Church

No doubt part of the reason why the movements discussed in Fr Ian Ker's article are still not strong in English-speaking countries is because the institutional Church, built so largely on the faith of Irish immigrants, has been relatively strong. But those days are clearly coming to an end. Not even the Irish Church, with the spiritual equivalent of rampant inflation, can live for ever on the spiritual capital accumulated over the centuries. In this country Mass attendance has collapsed over the last 30 years, vocations to the diocesan priesthood are at an all-time low, and the active religious orders are in steep, even terminal, decline.

It may be that the hour of the movements is corning in these islands. The late Cardinal Hume chose to ignore the advice of his Council of Priests, and went ahead with the ordination of seminarians belonging to the most controversial of the movements, the Neo-Catechuminate. Privately, he is known to have remarked to a group of priests during a meeting concerning the crisis in vocations, that the new movements and communities were now the most fertile ground for vocations to the priesthood.

The Cardinal had used his discernment as a pastor. It is surely time that all bishops now should show their readiness and willingness to respond to the heart-felt plea of the Holy Father. Of course, there will be teething problems: zeal can easily degenerate into spiritual elitism, for instance; where there is life there will be conflict and tension. But clearly Cardinal Ratzinger was speaking in the name of the Pope when he warned that "
our message to the local Churches, including the bishops, is loud and clear: they are not allowed to indulge in any demands for absolute uniformity in pastoral organisation and programmes".

Bishops who complain about the centralising authority of the Roman Curia should remember that dioceses and parishes can also be authoritarian and repressive if they insist on a pastoral monopoly and choose to ignore or frustrate the charisms that the Holy Spirit gives to the baptised. These charisms are certainly, as the Pope has stressed, subject to the hierarchical authority of the Church. But that is quite different from suggesting that all the charisms in the Church must originate with the bishops or for that matter, parish priests. At the time of the Second Vatican Council, which was often called Newman's Council, it was sadly noticeable how out of touch the bishops of this country were with the new theological ideas coming from the Continent. It would be doubly sad if the same were to be true today.

This article and editorial commentary first appeared in the 10 September 1999 issue of The Catholic Herald.

Copyright © 1999 Fr. Ian Ker

E-mail: ian.ker@theology.ox.ac.uk

Tel/Fax: 44 (0) 1993 823 219

Address: 171 The Hill, Burford, OX18 4RE, England

Version: 14th October 2002

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