An article by Cardinal Heenan
THE NEW YEAR will be more than six months old before the real impact of the Vatican Council begins to be felt in the parishes. The reason is that most of the decrees of the Council do not come into effect until after June 29, 1966, the feast of SS. Peter and Paul.
This is called a vacatio 1egi5 and is the reason why so little action has yet been taken as a direct result of the Council. There have been liturgical changes. But there was no need to call a Council to bring the liturgy up to date.
At irregular intervals in recent years the Congregation of Rites has been issuing decrees about the celebration of Mass and the administration of the Sacraments.
The crusade for unity among Christians likewise did not depend on the initiative of the Vatican Council. The summons to take part in the ecumenical movement was made just after the war by Pope Pius x11.
ANEW OUTLOOK on the faith has been decreed by the Vatican Council, and Catholic life will never be quite as it was before. It will be harder, but perhaps healthier.
The Council has forced every Catholic to admit his own responsibility for the work of the Church. This action of the Council is far more important than any of its regulations on liturgy or ecumenism.
It is true that the Council introduced the mother tongue in the Mass and urged us to foster good relations with our separated brethren. These are the only aspects of the Council as yet known by the faithful and the general public.
It is. therefore, easy to imagine that they are the major achievements of the Council. In fact they are of relatively minor importance and, as I have said, did not depend upon the Council.
The next steps will have the much wider effects of compelling conscientious Catholics to justify the faith which is in them. The "Why doesn't the Church . ?" Catholic has had his day. The honeymoon time of idle criticism is over. Catholics must now prove themselves by deeds.
THE HOLY PEOPLE of God are summoned to the task of spreading the Gospel. The people of God means you and me, and every priest and layman in the world. The Council insists that we are the Church.
That is why it has become irrelevant and tiresome to keep asking "Why doesn't the Church ... ?". The Council admits the question, but challenges the questioner to produce his credentials. Before complaining about the Church, we who are the Church must henceforth show what we are doing for the salvation of souls.
We must produce our record of work for the poor, the handicapped. the starving. the suffering, the ignorant, the unbeliever. Unless we are taking an active part in the work of salvation we do not deserve the name of Catholic.
That, essentially, is the message of the Council. The time for talking is over. The Church now wants to see us set to work.
WHAT IS A vacatio legis? The expression means that a certain time must elapse before a law comes into force. The Church, in other words, announces its programme before it is due to become operative.
In this the Church behaves like any civil authority making new laws. The Bishops of the whole world in Council were able only to lay down principles and formulate decrees. They were in no position to work out the details of the new legislation.
That is always the task of permanent officials. Had the Bishops attempted to apply the decrees to every part of the world, the Council would have had to remain in session at least until the end of the century.
Look now at the Bishops as they emerge after four years at the Vatican Council. It is hard to see in them the prelates described by some popular writers. The superficial picture of the Bishops in Council was of an ambitious body of men anxious to extend their own powers. They were said to prize collegiality above any other decision of the Council. Asserting their rights as pastors of the flocks over which the Holy Ghost had placed them, they were determined to play down the First Vatican Council and the primacy of the Roman Pontiff.
In the Second Vatican Council, some journalists alleged. the Bishops set out to give themselves their rightful place and put the Pope in his.
THE REALITY WAS rather different. The Bishops, as it turned out, were less disposed to discuss themselves than almost any other topic. 'The lay apostolate, for example, interested them more and inspired in them a lofty eloquence.
The schema on the missions saw them rise to unprecedented heights of oratory and to an impressive unanimity of purpose. So strongly did they feel the schema to be inadequate that, despite its recommendation by the Pope in person, they refused to accept it even as a basis for discussion.
The decree on the priestly life and ministry received similarly rough treatment. The Bishops' attitude towards their priests was responsible for one of the noblest episodes of the whole Council.
Having spent so long on the vital document concerning the pastoral ministry — the government of the Church by the Bishops — they were resentful when asked to limit discussion on the priesthood to a few hours.
Nor could they be satisfied with anything less than a sublime decree on the priestly office. No-one better than a Bishop knows that the Church of God stands or falls by the quality of its parochial clergy.
The first version of a decree on the priesthood was considered unworthy of debate and curtly returned to its commission for radical revision.
THIS ALL HAPPENED in the third session of the Council. Conciliar officials were dismayed at the fate of the schema on the priesthood. They, too, know that without priests there can be no fruitful results from the Council.
But they feared the bad impression it might make on the clergy if after three sessions nothing was yet said about the priesthood. It was therefore proposed in the interim to send out a nuntins ad sacerdotes (message to priests). A hurriedly composed draft was circulated to the Bishops. They were given only until the following morning to make comments. Many sat up late that night to write criticisms and compose new versions of the nuntitts. Early next morning the office of the General Secretary was swamped with letters from Bishops.
The nuntius had to be abandoned. This was the kind of victory which delighted the episcopate of the whole Church.
The determination of the Bishops to make a worthy schema on the priesthood explains why the decree "The Ministry and Life of the Priest" is not to be promulgated until the very last day of the Council.
THE SCHEMA WAS LAST precisely because it was not least. It was last because each Bishop realised its deep significance. The priesthood is central to the whole reforming movement in the Church of God.
We shall return to this in a second article. Let us see meanwhile how different was the spirit within the Council at its end compared with its beginning. The contrast is so great that it must be described as God's own work.
When the Council opened, not even Pope John could foresee its outcome. The Pope, as is well known, hoped at first that it would be the Council of Pastoral Renewal. He would have been happy to make one comprehensive decree of reformation applicable to every activity in the Church.
He was an apocolyptic figure crying Behold, I make all things new (Apoc. ch. 12 v. 5). But after the first few days he saw clearly that the Council he had started must continue until it had examined the whole pastoral life the Church.
Only thus could the aggiUrnanienlo be brought about. Clergy, laity, religious, — yes and the Papal Government itself — must all be submitted to a Johannine test and scrutiny. Nor was this all.
IF THE COUNCIL were to do its work well, the Church must look not only within but without. It mast not only examine itself, but also study the world in which it lives and works. This was a daunting prospect.
Bishops had come to the Council only dimly aware of the titanic proportions of their task. Some had come with minds made up about almost every subject to be discussed. Others had minds already sealed and immune to argument.
Not a few arrived determined to attack everything Roman. They were going to put an end to the Italian hegemony in the Church. They forgot that Pope John was in many ways a typical Italian. No Pontificate for centuries had been more beneficial to the Church and the world.
Without Pope John there would have been no Council. English-speaking Bishops. American no less than British, Indian as well as African, were astonished by the vehemence of the Northern Europeans and their organised lobbying from the first hours of the Council.
It is good to remember those early days. It makes us the more grateful to God for all his graces. The Englishspeaking Hierarchies scarcely knew each other five years ago. It took them three sessions to set up channels of communication.
But these have been so firmly built that they will last for many years to come. We all had much to learn. But only God could teach us.