For the Council to Be Implemented?
I recently finished reading Jonathan Englert's The Collar, and it is truly a book worth reading (my review is forthcoming in Crisis magazine). But my purpose here isn't to give a book review.
Towards the middle of the book, the author recounts a conference given by the then-rector of the seminary, in which he discusses a document produced as part of a self-study, called "Educational Priniciples". One of the points of the document is summarized as follows:
One concept of Church evolution held that it took decades for a council like Vatican II to be fully implemented, because the generation that had lived through it had to die first. That generation, the theory went, had reactionary expectations based on the past and what it had been through and thus was cemented in a unalterable way to its consciousness.
Now, I haven't read this whole document, so I don't know what this observation is intended to demonstrate or reinforce, but this theory or observation seems to me to have a great deal of truth to it. The period following Vatican II was filled with all sorts of predictions of change coming within the Church which were in no way supportable from the texts of the documents themselves. The mantra of the times was "The Church is changing", and "progressives" with agendas far beyond anything the council fathers intended used the atmosphere of the times to justify almost anything in the name of the council.
For example, the Council called for the retention of Latin in the Roman Rite (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 36), and prescribed that "care must be taken to ensure that the faithful may be able to say or sing together in Latin those parts of the Mass that pertain to them. (SC, 54 ) However, in virtually every parish in the US, Latin was utterly extirpated from the liturgy in the name of Vatican II. I cannot number the times that I have had to correct people (some of them priests and professional Church musicians) who have opined that "Vatican II got rid of Latin". Such a development can only be explained by the substitution of the expectations and desires of those empowered to implement the Council for the actual provisions of the Council itself. An even clearer example can be found in the lead-up to and the reaction against Humanae Vitae. In this case there was an all-out, deliberate campaign to undermine any possibility of maintaining the traditional teaching. Ralph McInerny, in the short but eminently worthwhile What Went Wrong With Vatican II, describes how priests and theologians, again, in the name of the inevitable "changes" coming from Vatican II, told people to expect the Church to change her teaching on contraception, and advised couples in the confessional either that they should "listen to their own experience", or even to go ahead and contracept. Never mind the fact that Vatican II's documents gave not the slightest hint that the Church's teaching was reformable, once again what drove the movement in the Church were the desires and expectations of the "liberals" who dominated the clergy and lay opinion-leaders.
And if we look at the things most dear today to those most closely identified with the Vatican II generation (also contemporaneous with the '60's or "aging hippie" generation), such as married priests, ordination of women, popular election of bishops, or acceptance of homosexual activity and recognition of gay unions, once again we see that these agendas are in no way called for nor even anticipated by the documents of the council. Indeed, any study of what the Council's documents actually teach renders these fanstasies of the Call To Action, VOTF, and NC(Reporter) crowd insupportable. Once again, the desires and expectations of the Vatican II generation trump the actual content of conciliar teaching. I suspect that this truth is why, within not very long after the council, the progressives began agitating in the name of the "Spirit of Vatican II". (If anyone out there can provide evidence for when the phrase "Spirit of Vatican II" was first used, I'd love to see it.) They could not and cannot point to any actual teaching or document of the council which supports their agenda, so its far easier to pass over that inconvenient circumstance and refer to a vague "spirit" instead. The "Spirit of Vatican II" is nothing other than the crypto-divinized collection of their desires and expectations.
So, does the Vatican II generation have to die before the actual provisions of the council are implemented? Probably not entirely. Over the past decade, there have been signs here and there that Catholics are starting to pay more attention to the actual teaching of the council than to the dreamings of the official keepers of it's putative "spirit". 15 years ago, a book like Janet Smith's Why Humanae Vitae Was Right would probably not have been publishable: now it is used in seminary classes. Even purveyors of synth-cath glurge like Oregon Catholic Press are starting to publish Gregorian Chant and actually recognize that it has some place in the liturgy. The stranglehold of the Vatican II generation is starting to weaken, and this is allowing a whole new generation of Catholics to say "wait a minute, Vatican II never said that! From that beginning, it is short step to studying what the Council actually did teach.
Perhaps in another generation, we'll see what an authentically renewed post-Vatican II Church actually looks like.