to the fact that the Vatican Council is now ending, as far as its discussions are concerned, and at the same time beginning to the extent that its decisions must now be applied at the parish level.
In this sense the real impact of the Council has still to be made. Already in many parts of the world, Bishops are planning how this is to come about. Pope Paul, in his speech at the public session last week, announced that the time between the end of the Council and next Easter would be regarded as a special Jubilee period throughout the Church. During this time, preachers would instruct their congregations in the decisions and meaning of the Council so that it would come alive for each individual.
KNOWLEDGE OF WHAT the Council has decided is, of course, a necessity. One of the great compaints heard from the ordinary Catholic is that he just does not know what decisions have been reached in Rome. He is aware that several proposals have been put forward but he does not know what happened to them.
But knowledge of itself will not be enough. Something more is needed if the spirit of the Council, as distinct from its practical decisions, are to be spread throughout the Church.
This realisation is forcing the Bishops to consider what institutions will be necessary in the post-Vatican II Church to ensure that the renewal — for which the Council was originally called — is to come about.
THE BISHOPS THEMSELVES have recognised the necessity of this at one level. They see that the concept of collegiality cannot be merely stated and then left in the air. If collegiality — the doctrine that the Bishops share full and supreme power in the Church — is to mean anything it must be expressed in some institutional form. This is why Pope Paul agreed to their request to set up the so-called Synod or senate of bishops which will advise him in the government of the Church.
Less attention has been given to the institutional changes which will be necessary at lower levels. For instance, the Council has also stressed the role of the priest as the Bishop's helper. How is that role to be expressed in concrete form? If collegiality dictates the setting up of a Synod, should not the concept of presbyteriality suggest the setting up of diocesan Synods at which the priests could give the Bishop the benefit of their advice and practical experience?
THE ROLE OF THE LAYMAN, too, has been emphatically stressed by the Council. He is recognised as the real missioner, the person who brings the Church to the world and the world to the Church. It is in his ordinary work and life that the Christian message is reflected to those who do not know it. And it is his experience in the world which must be brought back to the Church in the form of deeper insights into its role and mission.
From this it follows that some institution must be devised which will enable the layman to exercise his function. For if he is to have responsibilities in the world, he must also have the rights which go with those responsibilities. You cannot order a person to do something if you do not provide him with the means of doing it.
The list can be extended to cover all the topics discussed by the Council. The different decrees—on seminaries, the lay apostolate, religious liberty, revelation, non-Chrisian religions, the religious life, the missionary Church and the rest—cannot be left in the air. As in the case of ecumenism and the liturgy, institutions at diocesan and parish level are necessary if ordinary Catholics, in all parts of the Church, are to understand them, become enthusiastic about them and apply them to their lives.
Considerations like these are encouraging some Bishops to set up "little Councils" in their dioceses when they go home. These will provide a framework for discussing the practical implementation of the Council's decrees at the diocesan level. Out of these discussions will come the institutions which will ensure that the spirit of the Council remains in being and transform it into action.