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Online Edition - Vol. VI, No. 4: June/July 2000
Pope warns against "biased interpretations" of Vatican II

by Helen Hull Hitchcock

"The genuine intention of the Council Fathers must not be lost", Pope John Paul II cautioned a meeting of bishops, scholars and experts gathered in Rome in February. "Indeed, it must be recovered by overcoming biased and partial interpretations which have prevented the newness of the Council's Magisterium (teaching) from being expressed as well as possible", he continued.

"To interpret the Council on the supposition that it marks a break with the past, when in reality it stands in continuity with the faith of all times, is a definite mistake", he told the group in his closing remarks.

The need for correct interpretation of the meaning of the Second Vatican Council was stressed by the pope and others who addressed an International Symposium held February 25-28, 2000. About 250 cardinals, bishops and scholars participated.

The Symposium was the last of a series of meetings initiated by the pope's 1994 Apostolic letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente. The focus of this session was the correct implementation of the documents of the Second Vatican Council.

The pope stressed that it is important to understand that "with the Council, the Church first had an experience of faith, as she abandoned herself to God without reserve, as one who trusts and is certain of being loved.... Anyone who wished to approach the Council without considering this interpretive key would be unable to penetrate its depths".

Theology has a dual task, the Holy Father said, quoting his encyclical Fides et Ratio : "On the one hand, it must be increasingly committed to the task entrusted to it by the Second Vatican Council, the task of renewing its specific methods in order to serve evangelization more effectively. On the other hand, theology must look to the ultimate truth which Revelation entrusts to it".  

Liturgy: belief is the object of prayer

"What the Church believes is what she makes the object of her prayer", the pope said in his comments on the liturgy. "The Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium explained the premises of a liturgical life that would give God the true worship owed Him by the people called to exercise the priesthood of the New Covenant. The Liturgy must allow every member of the faithful to enter deeply into the mystery to grasp the beauty of praising the Triune God. The Liturgy, in fact, is an anticipation on earth of the praise that the hosts of the blessed give God in heaven. At every liturgical celebration, therefore, the participants should be given the possibility of a foretaste, albeit under the veil of faith, of some of the sweetness that will flow from contemplating God in paradise. For this reason, every minister, conscious of the responsibility he has to all the people entrusted to him, must faithfully maintain respect for the sacredness of the rite and grow in his understanding of what he celebrates."

Ecumenism - unity and communion

" Communio is the foundation on which the Church's reality is based", the pope said, and its source is in "the very mystery of the Triune God and extends to all the baptized, who are therefore called to full unity in Christ". He said the "movement of encounter and clarification" among various Christian bodies "is irreversible". The Holy Spirit, he said, "calls all believers to obedience, so that unity may be an effective source of evangelization."

"No encounter with the world will be fruitful if the believer ceases to fix his gaze on the mystery of the Incarnation of God's Son", said Pope John Paul II.

"Rich in eternal truths"

The Holy Father quoted Saint Vincent of Lérins, stressing that "the Church of Christ, the concerned and careful guardian of the dogmas entrusted to her, never changes anything in them; she removes nothing and adds nothing". He said that "the 'little seed' which John XXIII planted 'with anxious heart and mind' ... now spreads its majestic and mighty branches in the Vineyard of the Lord."

The Council, the pope said, is "rich in eternal truths", and he called for "a time of deep reflection" on the Council's teaching. (The complete address is on the Vatican website: www.vatican.va ).

Cardinal Ratzinger on communio

Among the other speakers at the Symposium was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who addressed the group on the proper understanding of " communio ".

Too often, he said, " communio [literally, mutual strengthening, communion] has been interpreted in the narrow sense of the relation between the local and the universal Church, the latter at times identified with Rome, the pope and the Curia alone." This ignores the sense in which the Petrine ministry (papacy) represents the Church's universality, as has been recognized from the very earliest days.

From the beginning, said the cardinal, "the Church was generated by the one Spirit for all peoples. From the first instant it was oriented to express itself in all cultures and to be the only people of God."

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