Thursday, April 21, 2011

A sure and certain norm

Vatican II brought many changes to the way Catholics practiced their faith around the world. Many of these  were good, and perhaps necessary changes. Unfortunately, most people are very much unaware of exactly what the Council taught. Very soon after the Council, the phrase "in the spirit of Vatican II" became a pass-phrase to wholesale experimentation with the liturgy, with the lifestyles of religious, and with the day to day religious practices of everyday Catholics. The vast majority of these changes had nothing to do with anything that the Council taught - and many of them were directly opposed to the documents of Vatican II and the teachings of Holy Mother Church for the preceding 2000 years.

And here the Church stood, for nearly thirty years - blown one way by the "spirit of vatican II", another way by the turmoil that both proceeded and followed Pope Paul VI's Humanae Vitae, the social and political upheavals of the Cold War and the Vietnam War, religious crisis in Iran and terrorism in the Middle East. Until in 1978 arrived on the scene Pope John Paul II - a father of the Council and key contributor to many of its most critical documents - most notably the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudiam et Spes.

Pope John Paul II was determined to recapture not just the "spirit", but the actual meaning of the documents of Vatican II for the Church as it made its way into the third millennium of Christiantity. And he thought he had exactly the right way to do that - by issuing a new, comprehensive Catechism of the Catholic Church - a definitive compendium of the totality of belief, truly representing what the Church believes - as defined by the three equal, balanced components of Divine Revelation to man, Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterial Teaching of the Church.

Begun in 1985, the first version of the Catechism was released in the French language in 1992, and the definitive Latin edition was promulgated by the Holy Father in the summer of 1997. The Apostolic Letter LAETAMUR MAGNOPERE ("Greatly Rejoice") was the document which officially promulgated the Catechism to the world. In this letter, the Holy Father indicated that this Catechism of the Catholic Church was "a sure norm for the teaching of the faith."

At last, there was (and is!) a reference that details the essential facts of the Catholic faith. All teaching materials, all instruction manuals and books, all classes and lesson plans for instruction in the Catholic faith must ultimately be reconciled with this "sure and certain norm." If ever there is a conflict between one of these sources and Catechism, we know definitively that source must be modified and brought into compliance with the Catechism.

"But Wait!", I can hear my Protestant brothers and sisters say. "Doesn't the Bible say that:
All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17)
Certainly it does, and certainly this is true - if you know how to read and interpret scripture appropriately, which is to say read it with the mind of the Church, which is the mind of Christ. Next time, I will explain how exactly to do just that.

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