Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

The Church Is a Communion of Local Churches

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

The Church Is a Communion of Local Churches

Article excerpt

The late Cardinal John Dearden, archbishop of Detroit, noted at the University of Notre Dame some years ago that many of the bishops appointed after the Second Vatican Council never had the opportunity of experiencing the transforming effect of Vatican II.

For the bishops, like himself, who directly participated in the council, it was as if they had gone on a four-year retreat, a retreat that changed and enriched their understanding of the church.

Most of these bishops emerged from the council as new men, ready to serve their dioceses with deeper dedication than before.

What was true of the pre-Vatican II bishops was also true of the pre-Vatican II laity. A layperson today would _ have to be over 60 years old to have any meaningful memory of the pre-Vatican II church. Without that memory, one would find it very difficult--not impossible, to be sure--to appreciate what the council did for the church.

That is why mainly older Catholics are drawn to lay organizations such as Call to Action and Voice of the Faithful. It is not that younger Catholics have no interest in church renewal and reform, but they have never personally experienced the pre-Vatican II church nor the achievements wrought by the council itself.

Older Catholics--in their 60s, 70s, 80s, and some few in their 90s--know what the pre-Vatican II church was like and how much better it became because of Pope John XXIII and the council he convened. That is why many of them have been disheartened by what they regard as a kind of retrenchment under Pope John Paul II and now Benedict XVI, and many of the bishops they appointed.

Many younger Catholics--at least those who care enough to remain more or less active in the church--do not appreciate why many older Catholics are so unhappy with the state of the church today.

My recent columns have been underscoring some of the most important ecclesiological principles espoused by the council. The emphasis here is on the council's teaching that the church is a communion--a communion between God and ourselves (the vertical dimension) and a communion of ourselves with one another in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit (the horizontal dimension).

Because the church is a communion, its institutional structure is collegial rather than monarchical. …

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