Article: Ecumenical Imperative of Vatican II Versus Fundamentalist Retrenchment

By Fr. Harry Winter, OMI

A Sad Example:  Collect for the Feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Jan. 4, 2013

Fr. Harry Winter, OMIOn January 23, 2013, Father Jared Wicks SJ will give the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity lecture of the Archdiocese of St. Paul, MN:  “Vatican II:  The Ecumenical Imperative in Catholic Theology and Church Life.”  His title sums up a fact of Vatican II:  Ecumenism has become a feature of every facet of our lives as Christians.  As a Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate, it has been my privilege to be part of that process, stressing the essential missionary dimension of ecumenism.  We must work with our Christian brothers and sisters to restore the unity of the Church.  Our fragmentation hurts our witness (Decree on Ecumenism, #1; Decree on Missionary Activity, #6; Constitution on the Church, #15).

I was truly shocked on January 4, as I celebrated the Mass for the feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, to see how the new edition of the Sacramentary changed and deformed the former collect, which read:

St. Elizabeth Ann SetonLord God, you blessed Elizabeth Seton with the gifts of grace as wife and mother, educator and foundress, so that she might spend her life in service to your people.  Through her example and prayers may we learn to express our love for you in love for others.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Consider the new collect approved by Rome for the USA Church in the third edition of the Roman Missal, which went into effect on Nov. 27, 2011:

O God, who crowned with the gift of true faith Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton’s burning zeal to find you, grant by her intercession and example that we may always seek you with diligent love and find you in daily service with sincere faith.  Through our Lord Jesus Christ, you Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one god, for ever and ever.

St. Seton (1774-1821)was raised an Episcopalian (Anglican to those outside the USA) and converted to the Roman Catholic Church after her husband, also an Episcopalian, died during a trip to Italy for his health. Is it my imagination, or is the reference to “true faith” a slap at Vatican II’s refusal to identify the Church Christ founded simply with the Roman Catholic Church? Vatican II preferred to say that the Church of Christ “subsists in” the Roman Catholic Church (Constitution on the Church, #8), and led the way for us to see the need we have of the gifts and talents which exist in other Christian Churches.

What about dropping the great witness St. Seton gave as wife and mother?  Vatican II opened the door for the recognition of those outside the clergy. The placing in the Constitution on the Church of the chapter on the People of God before the chapter on the hierarchy provided a basis for the Decree on the Laity.  That decree promoted the restoration of the laity to their rightful place in the Church. The new formula also seems to me a slap at that initiative of Vatican II.

Father John Wotherspoon OMI and several of the other authors on his website( seemed to me until this point to be exaggerating the trend away from Vatican II, back toward the fundamentalism which existed so strongly in Roman Catholicism in 1961.  I have written elsewhere of the way Catholic Fundamentalism has saved Roman Catholicism several times in our history (see Dividing or Strengthening, pp. 109-10, website, page “Five Ways Book”).  But we cannot allow fundamentalism to dominate the Church today.  It would seem that Fr. Wotherspoon is correct, sadly, that Catholic Fundamentalism is growing within the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church.

I noted with delight that elsewhere on his website, Abbot Martin Werlen, OSB, in his 39 page manifesto “Discovering the Embers Under the Ashes,” told how, like Pope Benedict, his monastery is in dialogue with both the fundamentalist Society of St. Peter, and the liberal Father Hans Kung.  By all means let us engage in this dialogue.  At the same time, we must shout from the rooftops that we protest and reject the effort by fundamentalists to roll back Vatican II.

May St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, and all the Daughters of Charity descended from her efforts, help us to restore the former collect to its rightful place in our liturgy.  The “Ecumenical Imperative” requires it.

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