Benedict XVI on Vatican II

From the first message of Pope Benedict XVI from the homily at the Mass for the Church, the day after he was elected, 20 April 2005

Pope John Paul II justly indicated the Council as a 'compass' with which to orient ourselves in the vast ocean of the third millennium. Also in his spiritual testament he noted: ' I am convinced that for a very long time the new generations will draw upon the riches that this council of the 20th century gave us'.

I too, as I start in the service that is proper to the Successor of Peter, wish to affirm with force my decided will to pursue the commitment to enact Vatican Council II, in the wake of my predecessors and in faithful continuity with the millennia-old tradition of the Church.

From the Moto proprio: Summorum pontificum July 7, 2007

The second Vatican Council expressed a desire that the respectful reverence due to divine worship should be renewed and adapted to the needs of our time. Moved by this desire our predecessor, the Supreme Pontiff Paul VI, approved, in 1970, reformed and partly renewed liturgical books for the Latin Church.

The Roman Missal promulgated by Paul VI is the ordinary expression of the 'Lex orandi' (Law of prayer) of the Catholic Church of the Latin rite.

From the letter that accompanied the Moto proprio

There is the fear that the (above) document detracts from the authority of the Second Vatican Council, one of whose essential decisions - the liturgical reform - is being called into question. This fear is unfounded. In this regard, it must first be said that the Missal published by Paul VI and then republished in two subsequent editions by John Paul II, obviously is and continues to be the normal form - the 'Forma ordinaria' - of the Eucharistic liturgy.

It is a matter of coming to an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church. Looking back over the past, to the divisions which in the course of the centuries have rent the Body of Christ, one continually has the impression that, at critical moments when divisions were coming about, not enough was done by the Church's leaders to maintain or regain reconciliation and unity. One has the impression that omissions on the part of the Church have had their share of blame for the fact that these divisions were able to harden. This glance at the past imposes an obligation on us today: to make every effort to unable for all those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity or to attain it anew. I think of a sentence in the Second Letter to the Corinthians, where Paul writes: "Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return . widen your hearts also!" (2 Cor 6:11-13). Paul was certainly speaking in another context, but his exhortation can and must touch us too, precisely on this subject. Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows.

To the Bishop’s of Portugal 10 November 2007 (Zenit translation of the complete Portugese Text)

 

It is necessary...to have a Church in tune with Vatican II, in which the function of clergy and laypeople is well-defined, taking into account the fact that we are all one, since we were baptized and integrated into the family of the children of God, and all of us have a common responsibility for the growth of the Church.

Question and Answer session with the clergy of the diocese of Belluno-Feltre and Treviso 24 July 2007

Q: I am asking the last question and I am very tempted to keep quiet for it is a small question, Your Holiness, and after you have nine times found the way to speak to us of God and so exalt us, I feel that what I am about to ask you is trivial and poor, as it were; yet I shall do so! Just a word for those of my generation who trained during the years of the Council and set out with enthusiasm and perhaps also the ambition to change the world. We worked very hard and today we are in a somewhat tricky position because we are worn out, many of our dreams failed to come true and we feel somewhat lonely. The oldest say to us, "You see, we were right to have been more prudent"; and the younger ones sometimes taunt us for being "nostalgic for the Council". This is our question: Can we still bring a gift to our Church, especially with that attachment to people which we feel has marked us? Please help us to recover our hope and serenity.

Benedict XVI: Thank you. This is an important question with which I am well acquainted.

I also lived at the time of the Council. I was in St Peter's Basilica with great enthusiasm and saw new doors opening. It really seemed to be the new Pentecost in which the Church could once again convince humanity, after the world had distanced itself from the Church in the 18th and 19th centuries; it seemed that the Church and the world were meeting again and that a Christian world and a Church of the world, truly open to the world, were being born anew. We had so many hopes but in fact things turned out to be more difficult.

However, the great legacy of the Council which opened up a new road endures; it is still a magna carta of the Church's journey, very essential and fundamental. Why did this happen? Perhaps I would like to begin with a historical observation. A post-conciliar period is almost always very difficult. The important Council of Nicea - which for us really is the foundation of our faith, in fact, we confess the faith formulated at Nicea - did not lead to a situation of reconciliation and unity as Constantine, who organized this great Council, had hoped. It was followed instead by a truly chaotic situation of in-fighting. In his book on the Holy Spirit, St Basil compares the situation of the Church subsequent to the Council of Nicea to a naval battle at night in which no one recognizes the other but everyone fights everyone else. It really was a situation of total chaos: thus, St Basil painted in strong colours the drama of the post-conciliar period, the aftermath of Nicea. Fifty years later, for the First Council of Constantinople, the Emperor invited St Gregory of Nazianzus to take part in the Council. St Gregory answered: "No. I will not come because I know these things, I know that all Councils produce nothing but confusion and fighting so I shall not be coming". And he did not go.

Thus, in retrospect, today is not as great a surprise as it would have been at the outset for us all to digest the Council, its important message. To integrate it in the Church's life, to accept it so that it may become the life of the Church, to assimilate it in the various milieus of the Church, means suffering. And it is only in suffering that growth is achieved. Growing always brings suffering because it means emerging from one stage and moving on to the next; and we must note that in the concrete post-conciliar period there are two great historical caesurae. In the post-conciliar period, we had the pause in 1968, the beginning or "explosion" - I would dare to call it - of the great cultural crisis of the West. The post-war generation had come to an end. This was the generation that, after all the destruction and seeing the horrors of war and fighting and noting the tragedy of the great ideologies which truly led people to the brink of war, rediscovered the Christian roots of Europe. And we had begun to rebuild Europe with these lofty inspirations. However, once this generation had disappeared, all the failures, the shortcomings in this reconstruction and the widespread poverty in the world became visible. Thus, the crisis in Western culture, I would call it a cultural revolution that wanted radical change, burst out. It was saying: in 2,000 years of Christianity, we have not created a better world. We must start again from zero in an entirely new way. Marxism seems to be the scientific recipe for creating a new world at last. And in this - we said - serious clash between the new and healthy modernity desired by the Council and the crisis of modernity, everything becomes difficult, just as it was after the First Council of Nicea.

Some were of the opinion that this cultural revolution was what the Council desired. They identified this new Marxist cultural revolution with the Council's intentions. This faction said: "This is the Council. Literally, the texts are still somewhat antiquated but this is the spirit behind the written words, this is the will of the Council, this is what we have to do". On the other hand, however, was a reaction that said: "This is the way to destroy the Church". This reaction - let us say - was utterly opposed to the Council, the anti-conciliar approach and - let us say - the timid, humble effort to achieve the true spirit of the Council. And as a proverb says: "If a tree falls it makes a great crash, but if a forest grows nothing can be heard for a silent process is happening". Thus, in the din of an anti-Council sentiment and erroneous progressivism, the journey of the Church silently gathered momentum, with great suffering and great losses, as she built up a new cultural process.

Then came the second phase in 1989 - the collapse of the Communist regimes; but the response was not a return to the faith as one might have expected. It was not the rediscovery that the Church herself, with the authentic Council, had come up with the answer. The response instead was the total scepticism of so-called "post-modernity". It held that nothing is true, that everyone must live as best he can. Materialism gained ground, a pseudo-rationalist, blind scepticism that led to drugs and ended in all the problems we know. Once again, it closed the ways to faith because it was something so simple and so obvious. No, there was nothing true about it. The truth is intolerant, we cannot take this route. Here, in the contexts of these two cultural ruptures: the first, the cultural revolution of 1968 and the second, the collapse, we might call it, into nihilism after 1989, the Church humbly set out among the afflictions of the world and the glory of the Lord.

On this path we must grow, patiently, and must now learn in a new way what it means to give up triumphalism. The Council had said that triumphalism should be given up - and was thinking of the baroque, of all these great cultures of the Church. People said: Let us begin in a new and modern way. But another triumphalism had developed, that of thought: we now do things, we have found our way, and on this path we will find the new world. Yet, the humility of the Cross, of the Crucified One, excludes this same triumphalism. We must renounce the triumphalism which holds that the great Church of the future is now truly being born.

Christ's Church is always humble and in this very way is great and joyful. It seems to me very important that our eyes are now open and can see all that is positive which developed in the period subsequent to the Council: in the renewal of the liturgy, in the Synods, the Roman Synods, the universal Synods, the diocesan synods, the parish structures, in collaboration, in the new responsibility of lay people, in the great intercultural and intercontinental co-responsibility, in a new experience of the Church's catholicity, of the unanimity that grows in humility and yet is the true hope of the world. Thus, I think we have to rediscover the Council's great legacy.

It is not a spirit reconstructed from texts but consists of the great Council texts themselves, reinterpreted today with the experiences we have had which have borne fruit in so many movements and so many new religious communities. I went to Brazil knowing that the sects were spreading and that the Catholic Church there seemed somewhat fossilized; but once I arrived there, I saw that a new religious community is born in Brazil almost every day, a new movement is born. Not only are the sects growing, the Church is growing with new situations full of vitality, not in order to complete the statistics - this is a false hope, statistics are not our god - but these situations are growing in souls and create the joy of faith, the presence of the Gospel; consequently, they are also creating a true development of the world and of society.

It seems to me, therefore, that we must combine the great humility of the Crucified One, of a Church which is always humble and always opposed by the great economic and military powers, etc., but with this humility we must also learn the true triumphalism of catholicity that develops in all the centuries. Today too, the presence of the Crucified and Risen One, who has preserved his wounds, is increasing. He is wounded but it is in this way that he renews the world and gives his breath which also renews the Church, despite all our poverty.

And I would say that it is in this combination of the humility of the Cross and the joy of the Risen Lord, who in the Council gave us a great signpost for our journey, that we can go ahead joyously and full of hope.

Homily St Patrick's Cathedral, New York 19 April 2008
 

For all of us, I think, one of the great disappointments which followed the Second Vatican Council, with its call for a greater engagement in the Church’s mission to the world, has been the experience of division between different groups, different generations, different members of the same religious family.  We can only move forward if we turn our gaze together to Christ!  In the light of faith, we will then discover the wisdom and strength needed to open ourselves to points of view which may not necessarily conform to our own ideas or assumptions.  Thus we can value the perspectives of others, be they younger or older than ourselves, and ultimately hear “what the Spirit is saying” to us and to the Church (cf. Rev 2:7).  In this way, we will move together towards that true spiritual renewal desired by the Council, a renewal which can only strengthen the Church in that holiness and unity indispensable for the effective proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world.

Press conference on the flight to Paris 12 September 2008

Q: What do you say to those who, in France, fear that the "Motu proprio' Summorum Pontificum signals a step backwards from the great insights of the Second Vatican Council? How can you reassure them?

Benedict XVI: Their fear is unfounded, for this "Motu Proprio' is merely an act of tolerance, with a pastoral aim, for those people who were brought up with this liturgy, who love it, are familiar with it and want to live with this liturgy. They form a small group, because this presupposes a schooling in Latin, a training in a certain culture. Yet for these people, to have the love and tolerance to let them live with this liturgy seems to me a normal requirement of the faith and pastoral concern of any Bishop of our Church. There is no opposition between the liturgy renewed by the Second Vatican Council and this liturgy.
On each day [of the Council], the Council Fathers celebrated Mass in accordance with the ancient rite and, at the same time, they conceived of a natural development for the liturgy within the whole of this century, for the liturgy is a living reality that develops but, in its development, retains its identity. Thus, there are certainly different accents, but nevertheless [there remains] a fundamental identity that excludes a contradiction, an opposition between the renewed liturgy and the previous liturgy. In any case, I believe that there is an opportunity for the enrichment of both parties. On the one hand the friends of the old liturgy can and must know the new saints, the new prefaces of the liturgy, etc.... On the other, the new liturgy places greater emphasis on common participation, but it is not merely an assembly of a certain community, but rather always an act of the universal Church in communion with all believers of all times, and an act of worship. In this sense, it seems to me that there is a mutual enrichment, and it is clear that the renewed liturgy is the ordinary liturgy of our time.

Homily at the Mass to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council. 8 December 2005

The Council took place in a Marian setting. It was actually far more than a setting: it was the orientation of its entire process. Indelibly printed in my memory is the moment when, hearing his words: "Mariam Sanctissimam declaramus Matrem Ecclesiae" - "We declare Mary the Most Holy Mother of the Church", the Fathers spontaneously rose at once and paid homage to the Mother of God, to our Mother, to the Mother of the Church, with a standing ovation. Indeed, with this title the Pope summed up the Marian teaching of the Council and provided the key to understanding it.

The Council intended to tell us this:  Mary is so interwoven in the great mystery of the Church that she and the Church are inseparable, just as she and Christ are inseparable. Mary mirrors the Church, anticipates the Church in her person.

The human being lives in the suspicion that God's love creates a dependence and that he must rid himself of this dependency if he is to be fully himself. Man does not want to receive his existence and the fullness of his life from God. He himself wants to obtain from the tree of knowledge the power to shape the world, to make himself a god, raising himself to God's level, and to overcome death and darkness with his own efforts. He does not want to rely on love that to him seems untrustworthy; he relies solely on his own knowledge since it confers power upon him. Rather than on love, he sets his sights on power, with which he desires to take his own life autonomously in hand. And in doing so, he trusts in deceit rather than in truth and thereby sinks with his life into emptiness, into death.

Love is not dependence but a gift that makes us live. The freedom of a human being is the freedom of a limited being, and therefore is itself limited. We can possess it only as a shared freedom, in the communion of freedom:  only if we live in the right way, with one another and for one another, can freedom develop.

Mary thus stands before us as a sign of comfort, encouragement and hope. She turns to us, saying:  "Have the courage to dare with God! Try it! Do not be afraid of him! Have the courage to risk with faith! Have the courage to risk with goodness! Have the courage to risk with a pure heart! Commit yourselves to God, then you will see that it is precisely by doing so that your life will become broad and light, not boring but filled with infinite surprises, for God's infinite goodness is never depleted!".

Pictures: Benedict XVI Mass for the Church. April 20 2005 (with, left, Mgr Franco Camaldo & right, Archbishop Marini - Bronze doors; the Fathers of II Vatican Council - Father Karl Rahner SJ & Father Joseph Ratzinger, periti at the II Vatican Council.