Ecclesia Semper Reformanda (The Church is Always in Need of Renewal), released yesterday, takes a look at the impact of the Second Vatican Council and sets forth a plan for the people of Sioux City and beyond. In many ways, it’s a pastoral letter unlike one we’ve yet seen.
Forty-four years after the close of the Council, Bishop Nickless says there are many questions that still need to be asked and answered. “Have we understood the Council within the context of the entire history of the Church? Have we understood the documents well? Have we truly appropriated and implemented them? Is the current state of the Church what the Council intended? What went right? What went wrong? Where is the promised “New Pentecost”?
Quoting from Pope Benedict XVI’s address to the Roman Curia in December, 2005, Bishop Nickless draws attention to the two contrary hermeneutics that arose from the Council – one which caused confusion (‘a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture’), and the other which has borne fruit (‘hermeneutic of reform’).
“The hermeneutic of discontinuity risks ending in a split between the pre-conciliar Church and the post-conciliar Church,” said Pope Benedict.
Bishop Nickless says that these two rival interpretations have weakened the Church’s identity and mission.
The consequence, says Bishop Nickless, has been a sort of dualism – “an either/or mentality and insistence in various areas of the Church’s life: either fidelity to doctrine or social justice work, either Latin or English, either personal conscience or the authority of the Church, either chant or contemporary music, either tradition or progress, either liturgy or popular piety, either conservative or liberal, either Mass or Adoration, either the Magisterium or theologians, either ecumenism or evangelization, either rubrics or personalization, either the Baltimore Catechism or ‘experience,’”…
For a clear example of this type of dualistic thinking, read through America magazine’s “Confessions of a Modern Nun,” by Ilia Delio. There, quoting Dominican Timothy Radcliffe, Delio describes American nuns as being either Concilium Catholics or Communio Catholics.
“Members of the Leadership Conference embrace modernity and the work of the council as the Holy Spirit breathing new life in the church,” writes Delio. “They fall under what Father Radcliffe identifies as the Concilium group, who focus on the Incarnation as the central point of renewal. Members of the Conference of Major Superiors, by contrast, are Communio Catholics, who emphasize communion through proclamation of the faith, a clear Catholic identity and the centrality of the cross. Members of the Conference of Major Superiors, by contrast, are Communio Catholics, who emphasize communion through proclamation of the faith, a clear Catholic identity and the centrality of the cross. (Concilium and Communio are the names of two periodicals founded in the postconciliar era. The first stressed conciliar reforms; the second stressed the continuity of the council documents with the community of the faithful through past centuries.) Thus, one group focuses on doxology and adoration (Communio), the other on practice and experience (Concilium). One sees Christ as gathering people into community (Communio); the other sees Christ as traversing boundaries (Concilium). The C.M.S.W.R. recently held its eucharistic congress under the title “Sacrifice of Enduring Love,” while the L.C.W.R. continues to work on systemic change. The former sees religious life as divine espousal with Christ; the latter sees Christ in solidarity with the poor and justice for the oppressed.”
“There can be no split, however, between the Church and her faith before and after the Council,” writes Bishop Nickless. “We must stop speaking of the ‘Pre-Vatican II’ and ‘Post-Vatican II’ Church, and stop seeing various characteristics of the Church as ‘pre’ and ‘post’ Vatican II. Only the ‘hermeneutic of reform,’ he says, is valid and “has borne and is bearing fruit.”
“The ‘spirit of Vatican II’ must be found only in the letter of the documents themselves,” writes Bishop Nickless. “The so-called ‘spirit’ of the Council…is a ghost or demon that must be exorcised if we are to proceed with the Lord’s work.”
Bishop Nickless goes on to state that, “we have sometimes lost sight of who we are and what we believe, and therefore have little to offer the world that so desperately needs the Gospel.”
“Our urgent need at this time is to reclaim and strengthen our understanding of the deposit of faith,” writes Nickless. He adds that our mission is two-fold – both within the Church (ad intra) and to the world (ad extra). He then sets forth a plan for “reclaiming and strengthening our faith, identity and culture as Catholics.”
That plan includes the following:
1. A renewal of reverence, love, adoration and devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament within and outside of Mass, regular reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
2. Strengthening catechesis on every level, beginning with and focusing on adults, with Sacred Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church as the primary sources of formation.
3. The protection and building up of holy families.
4. Fostering a culture where young people can more readily respond to the radical calls of ministerial priesthood and the consecrated life.
5. Acknowledging and embracing the missionary character of the Catholic Faith and the vocation of all Catholics to be, not only disciples, but also apostles.
Above all, Bishop Nickless calls the faithful to “great acts of renunciation.”
“In order to strengthen our devotion to Christ in the Holy Eucharist and worship God rightly, we need to renounce any attachment to how we worship currently. To improve the spiritual depth of how we perform the Church’s liturgy, we will need to renounce attachment to worldly expectations and long-standing habits. To spend more time adoring Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, we need to renounce attachments to how we currently use our time,” he writes. “To deepen our intimate love for God in our hearts and heads, we need to renounce attachments to whatever is not God that is filling our hearts and heads. To live in more intentional and holy Catholic families, we need to renounce attachment to distractions, sins, and imperfections that harm our domestic churches. To accept the divine plan god has for each of us, we need to renounce attachment to our own plans. To change the world for Christ, we need to renounce attachment to how we want the world to be for ourselves.”
Father John Zuhlsdorf, Fr. Z, has fisked a portion of the pastoral letter here:
It is a big day for the priests and people in the Diocese of Sioux City.
His Excellency Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless, Bishop of Sioux City, four years as bishop, during this year for Priests, has issued a pastoral letter Ecclesia Semper Reformanda (The Church is Always in Need of Renewal).
This is "A Pastoral Letter on the Future of the Church in the Diocese of Sioux City, Iowa".
I can’t reproduce the whole letter here, but here are the headings and some points I find especially interesting. As you go on, keep this in mind:
Raising our worship is like raising the tide: all the boats rise at the same time and without it, no boat rises.
In the Introduction Bp. Nickless tackles the implementation of the Second Vatican Council and the New Evangelization.
He asks in II. The Second Vatican Council and the New Evangelization:
We now find ourselves forty-four years since the close of the Council. Many questions still need to be asked and answered. Have we understood the Council within the context of the entire history of the Church? Have we understood the documents well? Have we truly appropriated and implemented them? Is the current state of the Church what the Council intended? What went right? What went wrong? Where is the promised “New Pentecost”?And then immediately goes on to quote Pope Benedict XVI’s pivotal address to the Curia in December of 2005 about the hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture versus a hermeneutic of reform in continuity with the past. Bp. Nickless also identifies a false "spirit of Vatican II".
In III. The Current Context Bp. Nickless speaks of a dualism at work. People are either this or that in every sphere of Catholic life, along progressivist or traditional lines. He returns to the problem of a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture.
In a passage that could have been straight from this blog. Note the ad intra/ad extra paring, the emphases on identity and then mission. If we don’t know who we are as Catholics, then we have nothing to contribute to the wider world or the smaller spheres of our influence.
My brothers and sisters, let me say this clearly: The “hermeneutic of discontinuity” is a false interpretation and implementation of the Council and the Catholic Faith. It emphasizes the “engagement with the world” to the exclusion of the deposit of faith. This has wreaked havoc on the Church, systematically dismantling the Catholic Faith to please the world, watering down what is distinctively Catholic, and ironically becoming completely irrelevant and impotent for the mission of the Church in the world. The Church that seeks simply what works or is “useful” in the end becomes useless.
Our urgent need at this time is to reclaim and strengthen our understanding of the deposit of faith. We must have a distinctive identity and culture as Catholics, if we would effectively communicate the Gospel to the people of this day and Diocese. This is our mission. Notice that this mission is two-fold, like the Second Vatican Council’s purpose. It is toward ourselves within the Church (ad intra), and it is to the world (ad extra). The first is primary and necessary for the second; the second flows from the first. This is why we have not been as successful as we should be in bringing the world to Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ to the world. We cannot give what we do not have; we cannot fulfill our mission to evangelize, if we ourselves are not evangelized.
With this in place, Bp. Nickless goes on to IV. Pastoral Priorities for the Diocese of Sioux City:
1. We must renew our reverence, love, adoration and devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament, within and outside of Mass. A renewal of Eucharistic Spirituality necessarily entails an ongoing implementation of the Second Vatican Council’s reform of the liturgy as authoritatively taught by the Church’s Magisterium, the promotion of Eucharistic Adoration outside of Mass, regular reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of the Eucharist and our Mother.
He is absolutely correct to start here, of course. He opens this part reminding his people that the Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life.
"All that we are and do should flow from our participation in the Eucharist and lead back to it. It is absolutely central to our identity and faith as Catholics. It enables us to engage in our mission. Without a proper reverence, love, adoration and devotion to the Eucharist and the liturgy, we are lost."
So, for Bishop Nickless, proper worship is the first priority. "When we worship God in this way, He sanctifies us, that is, He makes us holy. This is the second purpose of the Liturgy."
Since, in the Church’s liturgy, we meet God in a unique way, how we worship – the external rites, gestures, vessels, music, indeed, the building itself – should reflect the grandeur of the Heavenly liturgy. Liturgy is mystical; it is our mysterious encounter with the transcendent God, who comes to sanctify us through the sacrifice of Christ made present in the Eucharist and received in Holy Communion. It should radiate Heavenly truth and goodness. This radiance, the splendor of truth, is called beauty. Our liturgy should radiate true beauty, reflecting the beauty of God Himself and what He does for us in Christ Jesus. It should lift up our soul—first through our intellect and will, but also through our senses and emotions—to adore God as we share already in Heaven’s eternal worship. In this vale of tears, the liturgy should be a lodestar, a transcending place of wonder and comfort in the midst of our day-to-day lives, a place of light and high beauty beyond the reach of worldly shadows. So many people only connect with the Church, and sometimes with prayer and God, through Sunday Mass. Should we not offer an experience of beauty and transcendence, compellingly different from our day-to-day lives? Should not every facet of our offering be proportionate to the divine reality?That footnote #13? That’s J.R.R. Tolkien, by the way.
Bp. Nickless has gotten all this exactly right.
A reform of our worship has logical priority.
In this section the Bishop quotes important passage from Papa Ratzinger’s book Feast of Faith. He is placing his own vision within that of Benedict XVI.
"It is imperative that we recover this wonder, awe, reverence and love for the liturgy and the Eucharist. To do this, we must feel and think with the whole Church in “reforming the reform” of the Second Vatican Council. We must accept and implement the current stream of magisterial liturgical documents coming from the Holy See: Liturgiam Authenticam (2001), the Third Typical Edition of the Roman Missal, and its new General Instruction on the Roman Missal (2002), Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy (2002), Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003), Spiritus et Sponsa (2003), Redemptionis Sacramentum (2004), Sacramentum Caritatis (2007), and Summorum Pontificum (2007).At this point you must see the important of his mentioning Summorum Pontificum in his list of documents pertaining to the liturgy: Summorum Pontificum (2007). It is unfathomable that he wouldn’t mention this tool of continuity and reform. And there it is. Bp. Nickless sees Summorum Pontificum as a tool – one among several in the tool box – for the number one priority in his diocese within this Benedictine vision. Another important tool for executing that Benedictine "Marshall Plan" is Sacramentum caritatis.
It seems that all is not well with the Liturgy, and the Church is trying to help us. The pendulum swings, the hermeneutic of discontinuity, and the divisions within our Church have been seen and felt in the Liturgy more than anywhere."
The Bishop goes one to speak of "active participation" and "clericalizing" the laity and "laicizing" the priesthood. I liked this comparison: "The liturgy, like the Church, is intended to be hierarchical and polyphonic, respecting the different roles assigned by Christ and allowing all the different voices to blend in one great hymn of praise."
Does this part sound familiar to WDTPRS readers?
"Yet active participation does not preclude the active passivity of silence, stillness and listening: indeed, it demands it. Worshippers are not passive, for instance, when listening to the readings or the homily, or following the prayers of the celebrant, and the chants and music of the liturgy. These are experiences of silence and stillness, but they are in their own way profoundly active."
"Conscious participation calls for the entire community to be properly instructed in the mysteries of the liturgy, lest the experience of worship degenerate into a form of ritualism. But it does not mean a constant attempt within the liturgy itself to make the implicit explicit, since this often leads to a verbosity and informality which are alien to the Roman Rite and end by trivializing the act of worship. Nor does it mean the suppression of all subconscious experience, which is vital in a liturgy which thrives on symbols that speak to the subconscious just as they speak to the conscious. The use of the vernacular has certainly opened up the treasures of the liturgy to all who take part, but this does not mean that the Latin language, and especially the chants which are so superbly adapted to the genius of the Roman Rite, should be wholly abandoned. If subconscious experience is ignored in worship, an affective and devotional vacuum is created and the liturgy can become not only too verbal but also too cerebral."A bit of understatement there about Latin chants, since they are the official music of Holy Church and should always have priority over every other choice.
This has been our push for a long time here. It is nice to see that those far above my pay grade are moving in the same stream of thought.
HEre is a nice bit that concerns, inherently, the correct understanding of inculturation: "It is time to dig deeper, “to put out into the deep,”19 into a new and authentic liturgical spirituality that is both old and new, active and contemplative, historical and mystical, Roman and Iowan, familiar and challenging."
He goes on to address Adoration and the Sacrament of Penance/Reconciliation and Marian Devotion.
His next priorities:
- 2. We must strengthen catechesis on every level, beginning with and focusing on adults. If we, who are supposed to be mature in faith, do not know the Catholic Faith well, how can we live it and impart it to our children and future generations of Catholics?
- 3. The first two pastoral priorities, renewal in Eucharistic Spirituality and Catechesis, will foster faithful families that are the foundation of the Church and the society. We are called to protect, build up and foster holy families in our midst, without whom the Church and the world perish.
- 4. If we renew the Eucharistic, catechetical, and family life of our diocese, we will simultaneously foster a culture where young people can more readily respond to the radical calls of ministerial priesthood and the consecrated life.
- 5. We must acknowledge and embrace the missionary character of the Catholic Faith and the vocation of all Catholics to be, not only disciples, but also apostles.
Folks, this is an outstanding letter.
Bishop Nickness places a reform of the liturgy according to a Benedictine hermeneutic as the number one priority for the life of the diocese. Of course all the other priorities are worked on contemporaneously. But liturgy must have a logical priority even if chronologically we are working on everything simultaneously.
He is working within the thought stream and vision of Pope Benedict.
If we don’t know who we are as Catholics, then we have nothing to contribute to the wider world or the smaller spheres of our influence. Reform of our worship as Catholics, in continuity, is the key to this Benedictine "Marshall Plan". To use another image, liturgy is the tip of the spear.
Massive WDTPRS kudos to Bishop Nickless!