October/November/December 2021

Liturgy and unity

Anthony Towey

The stunning bronze reliquary beneath the altar of the Venerable English College Chapel in Rome is one of its most striking features. ‘Blessed are those called to the wedding feast of the Lamb’ is the text engraved thereupon, linking the sacrifice of the English martyrs with the white robed army of the faithful depicted in Revelation 19.19. No one could say it isn’t worthy, but with the benefit of hindsight, the text not chosen, Sint Unum – ‘May they be one’ (Jn 17.21), might have been preferable.

I was reminded of this ‘lost text’ when, as Britain enjoyed a typically insipid summer, temperatures on Catholic social media across the globe were raised to unprecedented levels by reactions to the somewhat unexpected Motu Proprio on the Liturgy, Traditionis Custodes. Although it did follow a consultation with bishops across the world, it nonetheless felt abrupt in its imposition of stricter guidelines regarding celebration of the 1962 Tridentine rite. Issued on July 16, Traditionis Custodes led one colleague to lament – ‘Rome has spoken, the case is closed, and I am sad.’

Sadness is one thing, but madness is another, and as some of the faithful took to social media to question loudly and at length the Catholicity of the Pope, it seemed clear that attention to the letter accompanying the Motu Proprio was somewhat lacking. In quoting 1 Corinthians, ‘I am for Paul, I am for Cephas, I am for Apollos’ Francis is not primarily concerned with the issue of language but is clearly referencing the issue of ecclesial unity as the origin and aim of Traditionis Custodes. Globally, the concerned urgency of the letter may surprise the average Catholic in the average parish but probably not the average bishop in the average diocese.

An opportunity offered by St. John Paul II and, with even greater magnanimity, by Benedict XVI, intended to recover the unity of an ecclesial body with diverse liturgical sensibilities, was exploited to widen the gaps, reinforce the divergences, and encourage disagreements that injure the Church, block her path, and expose her to the peril of division ... I am nonetheless saddened that the instrumental use of the Missale Romanum of 1962 is often characterized by a rejection not only of the liturgical reform, but of the Vatican Council II itself.

In some quarters it has, unfortunately, become a commonplace to adduce the current travails of the Church to the reforms of Vatican II. In this view, the changes epitomised and experienced most vividly in the Novus Ordo Liturgy approved in 1970 are at best a form of misguided modernism and at worst attributable to a deliberate Masonic plot. Inevitably the 1962 Missal has become something of a symbol of resistance to the calamity, and on this view, being ‘a real Catholic’ demands commitment to the same.

Bishops, particularly in the West, are having to manage such tensions in the face of cultural changes which for the last half century have proved inimical to the kind of belief-and-belonging systems hitherto presumed. They have equally decimated Christian Churches which were not reshaped by Vatican II and likewise affected allegiance to entities such as political parties and trade unions. In an era when simpler identities defined around sexuality, vegetarianism and sport have been able to harness specific commitment without comprehensive confession, the last thing bishops need is division fomented around the altar itself.

In truth, liturgical form has never quite defined Catholic life as clearly as one might think, as distinct liturgical diversity – whether Ambrosian, Dominican, Syriac, Eastern Catholic and more – continue to evidence. Ecumenically, Christian diversity is even more evident in a world where the portal of Orthodox liturgy can vector heaven for some and Hillsong worship can attract a billion hits from others. Withal, it does make sense that in accordance with the document, bishops are already granting permissions for presbyters to continue using the 1962 Missal where pastorally appropriate, which in some places has helped reposition the Ordinary as first ‘custodian of the tradition’ as the Motu Proprio intends.

Yet whichever rubrics are being observed, on every Sunday, in every church, all over the world, clerical and lay Catholics gather as imperfect people in imperfect circumstances to contemplate eternal glories. In so doing we are seeking a deeper unity, despite disagreements minor and major which are a feature of every family and have always been present in Christian communities ab initio (1 Cor. 11.17–34). In this understanding, the contours of a Catholic heart cannot be fully described by a rubric, but by our commitment to Christ and his Church exemplified by the martyrs and the divine plea ‘May they all be one’.

And so if our Sunday parish liturgy demands that we too die a little to ourselves, because of the rubric, because of the language, because of the architecture, because of the presider or because of the music, it does at least mean that in some small way, we are imitating the mystery we celebrate – ‘a living sacrifice’ offered by the faithful, one in union as the Body of Christ.

Together on the journey, becoming the Church we are called to be: The Liverpool Synod

Peter McGrail describes the Liverpool Diocesan Synod, identifying the stages in its process and the key issues raised.

In 1962 there were 264,000 people at Mass each Sunday, last year that number had fallen to 47,000. In 1962 there were over 400 priests serving the Diocese and now there are just 120. This means that we have to be open to change. The work of the Gospel is no less urgent, the call to make disciples has not changed, but we have to find new ways to do this in the light of our changed circumstances. The Second Vatican Council (1962–65) invited the Church to look at the signs of the times, to reflect on what they mean and to take appropriate action. This includes a re-discovering and a re-energising of the vocation of all the baptised.1

This is the background to the convocation of the first synod in the Archdiocese of Liverpool since 1955. Over recent decades, the size of the Mass-going Catholic population and the numbers of active priests have progressively shrunk while the average ages of both priests and practising Catholics have risen. To continue without significant intervention could only result in further decline. Yet, as in other complex organisations, an inbuilt tendency for stasis has mitigated against radical change; an earlier initiative to restructure the Archdiocese and reinvigorate its mission, entitled Leaving Safe Harbours, had only limited impact, leaving a legacy of disappointment, mistrust and cynicism. The Archdiocese faces a threefold logistical challenge in moving forward. First, it requires radical re-orientation: to survive (let alone thrive) the Archdiocese needs to shift from introspection to a missionary outlook. Second, that fundamental re-orientation can only be achieved if priests and people across the Archdiocese are confident that their voice is heard by decision-makers. Third, the entire process needs to be carried forward within a proper and authoritative canonical context. The ecclesial instrument of the Diocesan Synod offers exactly the framework within which these three challenges can be addressed. And so, even as Pope Francis was inviting the entire Church to set out on a synodal path, a decision was made in Liverpool to take those first steps.

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From the Pastoral Congress to synodality today

In the years since Vatican II, the Catholic community in England and Wales has experimented with processes and structures which can be seen in retrospect as synodal. Pat Jones reflects on the insights gained and their impact on the Church's synodal path today.

On 6 May 1980, at the joyful Eucharist which ended the five days of the National Pastoral Congress, Cardinal Hume declared in his homily that the presence of the Holy Spirit ‘has been sensed by us all; and in a quite remarkable way’.1 We would not, at that time, have been familiar with the concepts of discernment and synodality which now hold out such ecclesial hope, but it is striking to notice that Hume’s words were a properly authoritative discernment of the character of the event. They were an affirmation that the Congress experience was deeply synodal.

The International Theological Commission (ITC) describes synodality as ‘a sign of something new that has been maturing in the ecclesial consciousness starting from the Magisterium of Vatican II and from the lived experience of local Churches and the universal Church since the last Council until today’.2 Both parts of this description resonate today. There is a sense of ‘something new’ in the Pope’s invitation to us all to become a more synodal Church, and in the urgency of our desire to see this happen. When we look back over the decades since Vatican II, we can also see that we have been learning its meaning through processes and events at parish, diocesan and national level, perhaps even ‘maturing’ in our understanding.

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‘Listening is more than simply hearing’: Pope Francis and synodality

Declan Marmion SM explores how the ancient practice of synodality can be the path to the Church of the future.

For the next Synod of Bishops meeting in 2022 Pope Francis has chosen the topic of synodality. Already there are synodal processes underway in various countries and dioceses throughout the Catholic world – including Germany, Italy, the UK, Australia and Ireland. So, what is synodality and why does Francis consider it so important?
At a ceremony commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the institution of the Synod of Bishops in 2015 Pope Francis spoke of a synodal Church as ‘a Church which listens, [and] which realises that listening “is more than simply hearing” (cf. Evangelii gaudium 171). It is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn. The faithful people, the college of bishops, the Bishop of Rome: all listening to each other, and all listening to the Holy Spirit, the “Spirit of truth” (Jn 14:17), in order to know what he “says to the Churches” (Rev 2:7).’ This is Francis’ vision: ‘It is precisely this path of synodality which God expects of the Church of the third millennium.’1 Since 2013, Francis has organised four synods: the first two in 2014 and 2015 on the family, the third in 2018 on youth, and the most recent in 2019 on the challenges facing the Amazon region.
Synodality, however, is a contested topic. Some feel the term can be misinterpreted and presented as a kind of parallel authority, separate to the hierarchy, whereby vox pops or majority opinion rule the day. This is not Francis’ intention. For him, the synodal process is the concrete form of a decentralised ecclesiology of communion marked by a participatory style and real debate. It is not about finding ‘exhaustive solutions for all the difficulties’ facing the Church; nor is it about demonising those with whom we disagree, for ‘even people who can be considered dubious on account of their errors have something to offer which must not be overlooked’ (EG 236). This means living with the tensions and conflicts and allowing mature solutions to emerge over time rather than yielding to the temptation of the quick fix. In the final document of the Amazon synod, Francis laid the groundwork for reform. If he disappointed some by side-stepping (for now) the hot-button issues of women deacons and the ordination of married men, neither did he silence the discussion. He puts greater faith in the local Church and does not insist the magisterium must intervene to settle every doctrinal, moral and pastoral dispute. At the same time, in a recent letter to the German bishops, who are also engaged in a synodal process, he underlined two points: i) the synodal path of personal and ecclesial renewal must be linked to the Church’s central task of evangelisation and be guided by the Holy Spirit; and ii) any process of synodal renewal must guard against the twin dangers of polarisation and fragmentation by means of a strong sensus ecclesiae and connectedness to the universal Church.

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Guardians of Creation

Edward de Quay explores how the Church can and does get involved in responding to the climate change crisis.

‘Code red for humanity.’ This was how the UN Secretary General described the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. It states that greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels and deforestation are ‘choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk’.1 The situation is overwhelming, and especially this year, as the UK hosts the COP26 and the G7 conferences, there is pressure on the Church to show that it is working to tackle climate change within its own influence. This is not a straightforward task, which is why the ‘Guardians of Creation’ project was established to provide some guidance.

Our ecological crisis
From the understanding of the Church, we are undergoing an ‘ecological crisis’. That’s much more than climate change; it is climate change and a crisis of society feeding from each other. This is spelt out in detail in Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’, or in numerous articles deconstructing it. The fact that our planet is in serious disrepair, that we are responsible, and that we need to re-establish an understanding of the lives we ought to be living as children of God to tackle these issues, seems clear.
How do we go about responding to a problem as big as the fundamental degradation of the only planet we can call home? The solution, Pope Francis argues, is found in a profound ‘ecological conversion’, whereby the effects of our encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in our relationship with the world around us (Laudato Si’ 217). That implies each of us doing what is in our power to heal broken relationships with God, our neighbour and the earth.

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