Cardinal Montini: ‘Pensiamo al Concilio’ Part V

The fifth installment of Cardinal Montini’s Lenten pastoral letter, written in Rome where he is serving on preparatory commissions for the upcoming council. See also Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.

37. When we are talking about a reform related to an ecumenical council we usually think both about serious, ineradicable, and widespread infirmities and some extraordinary action. This happened during various previous councils. However the next council –even if it is likely to approve some outstanding reforms- will be characterized, as the reason for its call, by a desire for good rather than an escape from evil. In fact today, thanks to the divine mercy, the Church cannot be accounted for mistakes, scandals, aberrations, abuses requiring the exceptional action of calling a council. Today the Church, by the grace of God and thanks to many good and holy Christian people, is more in suffering and weakness rather than in scandal and decay. The general appearance of the Church shows more wounds than sins; more needs than infidelities. It makes us even more grateful and joyful, that the pope himself, without any external pressure, has announced the council spontaneously, inspired by his love for Christ and by the desire to promote more and more the Church’s process of perfection. Therefore the council will concentrate on positive reforms rather than punitive actions; on exhortations rather than anathemas.

Martin Luther by Lucas Cranach the Elder (courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)

38. The needs of the Church mark the line of desire the Church’s children must nurture regarding the coming council. Needs will become vows, hopes and prayers. Just this psychological change in the common opinion of Catholics is already a positive result of the council, even before its celebration. Thus, the pope’s optimism is spreading throughout the body of the Church, whose sensibility is increasing enormously, without anguished and existential morbidities, without sterile and pharisaic criticism, but rather wholly marked by a search for truth and trusting in the good. This council’s eve is a universal examination of conscience, to which everyone feels invited to participate. Who is not aware of some need, of some improvement, some completion regarding Catholic religious life? This explains the copiousness of forecasts and proposals, from different places, crowding around the council. (About the blooming of expectations regarding the council, among many publications, is worth citing: – Umfrage zum Konzil, Herder, Freiburg i. B., 1961: consisting of 81 judgments of laymen and theologians about next council’s tasks- Fragen an das Konzil, Herder, Freiburg i. B, 1961 – Daniel-Rops, Vatican II le Concile de Jean XXIIIFayard, Paris; 1961 ­cfr. “Civiltà Cattolica,, years 1960, 1961, 1962 – see also Various authors : Il mondo attende la Chiesa, Ed. Studium, Roma, 1957).

[T]he council will concentrate on positive reforms rather than punitive actions; on exhortations rather than anathemas.

39. We deem it instructive to invite our faithful to get at least a brief idea about the perspectives the council is presenting to the forward-looking sight of good and fervent people. We will only provide brief indications in order to broaden the horizon of small individual or general anticipations of those expecting the council to fulfill particular narrow personal interests, objectionable particular tastes, certain imaginative utopias so easy to form within good minds, not quite experienced about reality, and also to make our vows, prayers and purposes more possible and advisable to achieve. In the first place, we will allege some of these conciliar expectations relate to the inside of the Church, others to the outside, that is the relations the Church must update and restore.

40. What is most desirable inside the Church? How fruitful is this single question! One thing above all is most desirable: its unity closer and closer to Christ! To Christ in the Gospel: his acquaintance, his imitation, his mercy. This is the test of loyalty and authenticity of the Church. We must hope the whole Church’s life will grow, will improve, will be beautified by the mystery she already owns and lives: her genuine origin from Christ, as presented by the Gospels and as authoritatively indicated by the century-long doctrinal meditation of the magisterium and devotion of the Church through the sources of Scriptures and tradition: through the council the Church commits an act of love to Christ. She is the most faithful Bride celebrating her happiness.

41. And this great act of love, reminiscent of the historical Christ, but that now turns to the heavenly Christ, spontaneously orients itself towards His living and divine reality and looks forward to the future meeting; becomes waiting, a call upon Christ to come and create a mystical spiritual impulse, a hunch, a hope which is already being enjoyed,  that together produce an ascetic inclination, a vigil, an increasing morale that really shapes present Christian life as a pilgrimage towards the final goal so that, all human experience over time is judged and valued on the basis of this extremely unearthly interaction: what is its purpose for eternity? (Cfr. S. Bernardo: Ecclesia ante et retro oculata, commentato da Padre Congar nella Conferenza all’Unesco, 14 maggio 1961, in “Informations Catholiques”).

42. From this perspective of the council’s expectations, all polarized in Christ, it is easy to move to the vision of his Mystical Body. The council offers to the Church the mirror in which it knows and contemplates itself.  The most anticipated words of the council, as everyone knows, are those about the Church itself.

What is most desirable inside the Church? How fruitful is this single question! One thing above all is most desirable: its unity closer and closer to Christ!

The Church’s constitution is not yet fully understood and defined. As you know, the First Vatican Council further defined this constitution with regard to the Supreme Pontiff, the successor of St. Peter, recognizing not only the pastoral functions of the episcopate of the diocese of Rome,  but also those primatial (functions) as Master Universal, his infallibility when he speaks ex cathedra,  as well as pastoral functions with  full authority over the whole Church (Cfr. Costituzione Pastor aeternus del Concilio Vaticano I, Denz. n. 1828); but while affirming the harmonious relationship between the power of primacy of the pope and the bishops, had not time run out due to the political events in Rome in 1870, the council would have proceeded to define the constitutional rights of bishops. The interruption of the work of the First Vatican Council and the need to clarify the essence of the episcopate, its functions, powers, and its obligations suggests that among the discussions of the Second Vatican Council one will be about the episcopate, to illustrate its origins in the Gospel, sacramental gifts of grace, the powers of teaching, ministry and jurisdiction, both in the person of every bishop, and in its collegial expressions, and to confirm its dependence on the pope and at the same time the fellowship, brotherhood and cooperation with the Supreme Pontiff. 1 Colloquio internazionale . International Colloquium of the study, Paul VI Institute-Studium, Brescia-Rome, Publications of the Paul VII, 15.  (cfr. Colson, L’Evéque dans les communautés primitives. Ed. du Cerf, Paris, 1951; Dejaifve, Pape et Evéques au premier Concile du Vatican, Ed. du Cerf, 1961; Porrell, La Théologie de l’Episcopat au premier Concile du Vatican, Ed. du Cerf, Paris, 1961; Aubert, L’Ecclésiologie du Concile du Vatican nel volume Le Concile et les Conciles, Ed. du Cerf, 1960. C. Colombo, Episcopato e Primato pontificio nella vita della Chiesa, in “Scuola Cattolica,” 1960).

We are called in baptism (courtesy of Reuters)

43. And the discourse on the nature and function of the episcopate in harmony with the Roman papacy could lead to a new and spontaneous affirmation of the unity, not only legal, but the Church’s living around the Chair of St. Peter, and start, with no vindictive intentions, a greater and more systematic internationalization of the Church’s central government.

44. It seems very likely that any discussion of the issue of the reconciliation of the episcopate also brings with it a similar discussion of the priesthood and the status of the religious. 2 regarding virginity, and perhaps also about marriage and the status and the Christian family.

The matter of the lay person in the Church will certainly be raised, which also brings up his baptismal calling, his receiving supernatural life, and his confirmation, the public profession of his faith and Christian perfection.

45. It is also  believed that at council the Catholic laity will be explicitly recognized and honored. 3 The matter of the lay person in the Church will certainly be raised, which also brings up his baptismal calling, his receiving supernatural life, and his confirmation,  the public profession of his faith and Christian perfection. The term the ”royal priesthood” referred to the common lay person (1 Pet. 2:9) will be brilliantly elucidated. And two aspects of Catholic life must find mention, we hope for the adult vocation of the laity: his spirituality, strong, virtuous, appropriate, and developed into a more intimate and invigorating participation in the mysteries of the liturgical, or Christian community; and his vocation of official collaboration with the hierarchical apostolate, so that even the lay person will be able to breathe new life into the moral and religious body of the faithful, and to give his own witness to Christ and the Church in the modern world (G. Philips, Pour un christianisme adulte Casterman, 1962). If this happens, human life, raised by Christ to the supernatural state, will receive broad and complete view by the council, and will appear at its highest dignity and be regenerated in its beauty.

More to come

  1. The 28 Oct. 1965 conciliar decree Christus Dominus on the pastoral office of bishops and on the subject of episcopal collegiality was very dear to Paul VI, cf. Paolo VI e la collegialità episcopale di studio, Istituto Paolo VI-Studium, Brescia-Roma, Pubblicazioni dell’Istituto Paolo VII, 15. Footnote in the Italian copy being translated. Ed.
  2. On 28 Oct. 1965 the council approved the decree Perfectae Caritatis on the renewal of religious life. Footnote in the Italian copy being translated. Ed.
  3. On the theme of the laity the council would dedicate part IV of the dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium and the decree Apostolicam actuositatem. Footnote in the Italian copy being translated. Ed.

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