Monday, January 26, 2009

"The Horizon of Unity Remains Open to Us"

As has been much-noted, Saturday's "remit" of the Lefevbrist excommunications came on the eve of today's 50th anniversary of John XXIII's announcement of Vatican II, and at the close of the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Commemorating the latter two at yesterday's traditional Vespers in Rome's Basilica of St Paul's Outside the Walls for the feast of the the Apostle's conversion, while B16 made no explicit mention of the controversial breakthrough with the lead ultratraditionalist group, some comments in the Pope's homily glean a view into his mind on the weekend's top news story, tying in the other threads along the way:

I would like to conclude this reflection of mine with a reference to an event that we older people here have certainly not forgotten. In this place on Jan. 25, 1959, exactly 50 years ago, Blessed Pope John XXIII announced for this first time his desire to convoke "an ecumenical Council for the universal Church". He made this announcement to the cardinals in the chapter room of the Monastery of St. Paul, after having celebrated solemn Mass in the Basilica.

From the providential decision, suggested to my venerable predecessor, according to his firm conviction, by the Holy Spirit, there also derived a fundamental contribution to ecumenism, condensed in the decree "Unitatis Redintegratio." In that document we read: "There can be no ecumenism worthy of the name without a change of heart. For it is from renewal of the inner life of our minds, from self-denial and an unstinted love that desires of unity take their rise and develop in a mature way" (7).

The attitude of interior conversion in Christ, of spiritual renewal, of increased charity toward other Christians, created a new situation in ecumenical relations. The fruits of theological dialogues, with their convergences and with the more precise identification of the differences that still remain, led to a courageous pursuit in two directions: in the reception of what was positively achieved and a renewed dedication to the future.

Opportunely, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, which I thank for the service it renders to all the disciples of the Lord, has recently reflected on the reception and future of ecumenical dialogue. Such a reflection, if on one hand rightly desires to emphasize what has already been achieved, on the other hand intends to find new ways to continue the relations between the Churches and the ecclesial Communities in the present context.

The horizon of full unity remains open before us. It is an arduous task, but it is exciting for those Christians who want to live in harmony with the prayer of the Lord: "that all be one so that the world believes" (John 17:21). The Second Vatican Council explained to us "that human powers and capacities cannot achieve this holy objective -- the reconciling of all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ" ("Unitatis redintegratio," 24).

Of course, crucial to the above's context is the Society of St Pius X's record of criticism, both of Vatican II's developments on the ecumenical front and, indeed, the Council itself -- which, in a 2005 interview, the SSPX leader Bishop Bernard Fellay dubbed the "main obstacle" to a reconciliation between the Society and the Holy See.

Shortly after the depenalization decree's release on Saturday, the head of the Swiss-based fraternity publicly greeted the papal move opening the door to his confreres' restoration to full communion by voicing the "firm hope to obtain soon the recognition of the rights of Catholic Tradition."

In a press release and letter to the Society's membership, Fellay held to the group's belief that the post-Conciliar church is in a state of "unprecedented crisis," quoting Pope John Paul II to back up its view of a "silent apostasy" gripping Catholicism, especially in Europe.

"[W]e want to examine the deep causes of the present situation, and by bringing the appropriate remedy, achieve a lasting restoration of the Church," the cleric wrote, adding that alongside the other three prelates, he assured Benedict of his readiness "to write the Creed with our own blood, to sign the anti-modernist oath, the profession of faith of Pius IV, [to] accept and make our own all the councils up to the Second Vatican Council about which we express some reservations."

Despite the lifting of the excommunications, the SSPX prelates remain suspended from ordained ministry.