21 April 2014
Learning From The Patrimony
One of the joys of the creation of the Ordinariate for me has been the opportunity to connect to a current of thought of which I was unaware before: a corpus of liturgical history which has greatly influenced me.
I recently bought a copy of Dr Eric Mascall's Corpus Christi. It is really worth reading, not just for his beautiful English prose style (another potential gift of the Ordinariate, by the way, to those used to what English Bishops write). I found what appears to be a photo of the author being used as a page marker: the joy of second-hand books!
I also found something published in 1953, at the very height of ultramontanism which offers a clear view of a healthy view of the relationship between Bishop and Pope, and which, it seems to me, points towards an answer to the question: how do we recover from where we are?
"To return to our previous point, The Church, as a visible and tangible society, living in the historic process, needs a visible and tangible organ of its unity, though that union is, as I have emphasised, an interior and mystical unity and not a moral or political one. The Church is a visible and tangible society, but it is a sacramental one, and the organ of its unity will be a sacramental organ. This is why, as I see it, the apostolic Episcopate precisely fulfils the requirements for such an organ, for the episcopal character is conferred by a sacramental act. And this is why it seems to me impossible to locate the organ of the Church's unity in the Papacy, for the papal character is not conferred by a sacramental act at all, but by the purely administrative and organisational process of election. Whether the Papacy has, by divine providence, a unique status in the Church and, if so, what are the functions which attach to it are, of course, important questions, but by its very constitution the Papacy does not, so far as I can see, possess the nature which is required in the organ of the Church's unity. It might be an adequate organ if the Church's unity was the unity of an organisation; it does not seem to be adequate to the unity of a sacramental organism. (Neither would the Episcopate be an adequate organ if it were in its essence what many people believe it to be, a merely governmental and organisational contrivance; but it is adequate if it is, as Catholic theology maintains, a reality of the sacramental order.)It is perhaps an unconscious realisation of this fact that has led the Pope to appropriate more and more exclusively to himself the episcopal character, to the detriment of his episcopal brethren. There are, I believe, some theologians who maintain that all episcopal character primarily inheres in the Pope as universal bishop and that other bishops possess it only by delegation from him; it is certainly commonly maintained by Roman Catholic theologians that the Pope has a direct and immediate episcopal relation to every one of the faithful. I do not deny that the Pope is the successor of Peter, but the common post-Tridentine Roman attitude seems to me to make Peter not merely the Prince of the Apostles but, in effect, the only apostle. I think the Roman Church is right in insisting that the Church is a visible and not an invisible body, but I think it has gone wrong in treating the Church's visibility as an organisational rather than as a sacramental one, and so in locating that unity in the organisational organ of the Papacy rather than in the sacramental organ of the Episcopate; and the consequence has been, as I have suggested, that the Papacy has infringed upon the Episcopate and, in the Papal Communion, has all but absorbed it. However I do not think that the remedy is for the Episcopate to claim that it is collectively what the Pope claims to be individually; that would only perpetuate the error in another form.
I would maintain, then, that as a visible reality in the historic order, the Church's unity is established in our lord's institution of the Apostolate, which is continued in the universal Episcopate; the bishop is the link between the local and the universal Church. This fact is reflected in the ancient requirement that for the consecration of a new bishop at least three bishops are normally required as consecrators; that is to say, although the diocese gathered round its bishop is the self-coherent manifestation of the Body of Christ, its perpetuation requires, at least in principle and ideally, a repeated recourse to the universal Apostolate. This requirement, which had largely become obsolete in the West, was restored by the Church of England in the sixteenth century; it has, I gather, never been abandoned in the Eastern Church. With the devolution of so many of the bishop's sacramental functions upon the second order of the ministry - the presbyterate - the status of the diocese, gathered round its bishop, as the organic local manifestation of the Catholic Church has, of course, become very much obscured. It is the parish priest, rather than the bishop, round whom the faithful are normally assembled for the great liturgical action by which the Church's life is maintained, though I am told that in the small dioceses of such countries as Greece the bishop has retained more of his primitive liturgical position. Nevertheless, the sacramental functions of the presbyterate are limited and partial, and nowhere in Catholic Christendom has the bishop abandoned his status as the sole minister who can sacramentally delegate, even partially, the apostolic character to others. Every presbyter has received his partial apostolate from the hands of the bishop in the sacramental rite of ordination; while the bishop himself has received his full apostolate from those other bishops who represent the Apostolate of the universal Church. The diocese, gathered round its bishop, is thus not merely a part of the Church of God, but is its full manifestation in a particular place. Like the cell in a living organism, it is a coherent organic entity, yet it lives only because it coheres in the whole body. Like the sacramental body of Christ in the Eucharist, the mystical Body of Christ which is the Church is not divided into portions by its extension in space and time; it is tota in toto, et tota in aliqua parte."
Dr Mascall makes some very interesting points here, not least in identifying the episcopate of each Bishop (I'm Catholic enough to prefer a few more capitals, by the way) and pointing out the absurdity of Bishops' Conferences having any locus in the Church.
What he also points to, however, is that the way forward will come from good Bishops who understand the Liturgy and who regulate it within their dioceses. There is no reason why, for example, the Bishop of Dunderthorpe shouldn't authorise some of his priests - indeed a parish - to become Sarum Use parishes in accordance with the Tridentine decrees, and look to see how pre-twentieth century liturgical practice might inform the worship of his subjects. I could imagine it rather popular: I could imagine that diocese attracting vocations; I could imagine a virtual spiral: and none of this would trespass on his brother Bishop of Withernesea who, determined to follow the practices of the recently replaced Archbishop of Los Angeles, was emptying his diocese of all worshippers under the age of 50.
There is a good reason for the Bishops to meet in Low Week. It is a good idea to make sure that there is a coordinated Catholic response to government initiatives affecting all of England and Wales.
But each Bishop is the successor of the Apostles.
Posted by Ttony at 20:25