Saturday, February 2, 2008

Cardinal Martini's 'preemptive strike' ahead of Synod on the Bible

John Allen, National Catholic Reporter Looking ahead to next October’s Synod of Bishops on the Bible, a cardinal and one of the most noted experts on scripture in the Catholic hierarchy has launched what amounts to a “preemptive strike” – appealing to his brother bishops to concentrate on practical matters, rather than revisiting theological questions settled by the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the former archbishop of Milan and a former rector of the Pontficial Biblical Institute in Rome, published his recommendations in the Feb. 2 issue of La Civiltà Cattolica, a Jesuit-run journal that enjoys a semi-official Vatican status.

Martini, a Jesuit, is widely regarded as a leading voice for the progressive wing of the Catholic church. His essay on the Synod suggests concern that next October’s Synod could be an occasion for reconsidering, or even reversing, choices about scripture made by the progressive majority at Vatican II. . . .[Snip]

Martini urges the synod to become an occasion for “a great examination of conscience by the entire church on the fruits it draws from sacred scripture.” In general, Martini counsels a focus on pastoral applications rather than theological underpinnings.

The majority of Catholics, Martini writes, “have not yet reached that level of familiarity with scripture that was hoped for by Vatican II.” He cites an Italian study, for example, which found that 70 percent of Italian Catholics have never read the four gospels, and another 15 percent have done so only once.

Yet paragraph 25 of Dei Verbum, Martini recalls, asserts that “ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ.” Those words, he writes, should constitute “a goal, and an important moment in the pastoral planning of every bishop.”

Observing the explosion in Catholic Biblical commentaries and study aids in the years since Vatican II, Martini says that “it’s inexcusable that a Catholic lay person, and much more a priest or religious, should claim that they don’t use scripture because they don’t have adequate supports.”

Martini also argues for a distinction between scripture study and catechesis, arguing that it’s desirable for catechetical materials to utilize scripture, but that nothing substitutes for direct contact with the Bible itself.

In that connection, Martini voices “a desire, perhaps a bit Utopian, but nonetheless important”: During every daily Mass, he proposes, a three-minute explanation of the scripture readings for the day should be offered.

“Experience shows that it’s possible in three minutes to give an ‘input’ that will help shape the day,” Martini writes, arguing that to be effective this presentation has to be well-prepared. . . . [Snip]

Cardinal Martini, retired, and one of the rear guard of the progressives from Vatican II, has other aspects of Dei Verbum that he wants to protect. I'm not competent to speak with respect to those, but I sure do appreciate it when, rarely, it seems, a homilist really explains the day's readings. They seem to concentrate on giving a message. But if they want to send a message, as Sam Goldwyn once said, they should "use Western Union." It seems to most often happen during the short homilies on the week days. But few go to Mass during the week. The "three minute explanation" should mostly be concentrated on Sundays and Holy Days.

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