Pope Benedict XVI has spoken openly about the greatest achievements of the Second Vatican Council in his final address to the priests of the Diocese of Rome.
The Pope, who will step down on February 28, praised as “an act of providence” the Council’s decision to make liturgy as the adoration of God, its first order of business, but he criticised what he called misunderstandings of the liturgical reform the Council fostered.
The Pope said that celebrating the Mass in a modern language does not suffice to make its mysteries intelligible and an external participation by the laity in worship does not necessarily produce “communion with the Church and thus fellowship with Christ.”
Pope Benedict XVI also said the press mispresented the Council as a political struggle for “popular sovereignty” in the church. This “council of the media” was responsible for “many calamities, so many problems, so much misery,” the Pope said. “Seminaries closed, convents closed, liturgy trivialised.”
But the Pope said that the “true council” which was based on faith, is today “emerging with all its spiritual strength,” and he called on his listeners to “work so that the true council with the power of the Holy Spirit is realised and the Church is really renewed.”
The talk gave Pope Benedict a chance to underscore one of the major themes of his pontificate almost at its end. In a landmark speech during his first year as Pope, he had proclaimed the importance of reading Vatican II in continuity with the Church’s millennial traditions, not as a radical break with the past. His efforts to promote such interpretations have culminated in the current Year of Faith, which opened last October on the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II.
In his speech to the clergy, Pope Benedict highlighted some of the Council’s greatest achievements as well as difficulties in their implementation. He praised the document Dei Verbum, on the interpretation of Scripture, as one of the Council’s “most beautiful and innovative” documents, but said “there is still much to be done to arrive at a reading of Scripture that is really in the spirit of the council,” because many scholars continue to read the Bible as a merely human book, without reference to faith or the Church’s teaching authority.
The Pope also told an anecdote about the late Cardinal Josef Frings of Cologne who, when Blessed John XXIII once summoned him to Rome, “was afraid he had perhaps said maybe something incorrect, false and that he had been asked to come for a reprimand, perhaps even to deprive him of his red hat,” the Pope said.
Instead, Cardinal Frings received Blessed John’s praise, and later brought the future Pope Benedict with him to the Council as his personal adviser.
Before the Pope’s talk, the several thousand priests in the Vatican’s audience hall greeted him with a standing ovation and a shout of “Long live the Pope!”
Cardinal Agostino Vallini, the vicar of Rome, then read a short tribute to the Pope, likening the occasion to the departure of St Paul from Ephesus in the Acts of the Apostles.
The cardinal cried as he concluded, telling the Pope, “in the name of all the priests of Rome, who truly love the Pope, that we commit ourselves to pray still for you and for your intentions, so that our grateful love may become, if possible, even greater.”