IT IS WELL known that the schema under discussion now is on the liturgy. Is it possible to make any predictions about the outcome of the present discussions?
Here is a first observation. At one time it was believed that the bishops in favor of change and progress were concentrated in what the Italian press calls Central Europe, that is France, Germany, Holland, Belgium, and Switzerland. This common opinion was reflected in the Time article on the opening of the Council where we read of "a minority of liberal bishops."
In the course of the Council however, it has become evident that the bishops desiring change are by no means confined to a few countries. Judging from the statements made by bishops in public, from press interviews and personal conversations reported in newspapers, it seems clear to the outsider that the group of bishops desiring liturgical reform is spread through the whole Church, on every continent and in every country.
The press reports on the opinion of South American bishops, bishops of India and Africa, bishops of Canada and the U.S. are a surprise to many. The members of the Roman Curia themselves may be surprised. Even if it is true that the reforming bishops are concentrated in central Europe, they are only one group among many, gathered from all parts of the world.
From the Italian press we also learn that even the Italian hierarchy is not united in the support of the members of the Roman Curia who advocate the status quo. The press reported that, at a meeting held shortly after the Council opened, the Italian bishops formed three groups: one conservative, one reformist, and the third a center party, each under the leadership of an Italian cardinal. The report added, however, that the conservative group was by far the largest.
A second observation refers to the position of the Pope John XXIII is a great man with extraordinary personal charm, but from his public declarations it is almost impossible to know precisely where he stands. He seems to alternate between two positions, smiling first in one direction and then in the other.
One is tempted to conclude that it is the Pope's policy to keep a balance between the various trends in the Church by encouraging all of them simultaneously. In a way, this was known long before the Council. The Pope John who had made very outspoken speeches on the universality of the Church, the need for adaptation and the importance of stressing what is common among Christians, was also the Pope who signed the bull Veterum Sapientia which declared the ecclesiastical learning of our day to be wedded to Latin language and culture.
At the start of the Council, the Pope overwhelmed everyone with his opening speech on October 11 in which he aligned himself as never before with the bishops seeking reform and renewal in the Church. He declared that the Council had not met to discuss and re-define Catholic doctrine but to find formulations of this doctrine which would be meaningful to our time and pastorally more effective. The Pope suggested that, in finding this new way of speaking, the bishops should remember the quality of mercy which from now on was to adorn the ecclesiastical magisterium. The emphasis in the Council's elaborations should be on announcing, not on defending, the truth.
These words from Pope John were regarded by many as a criticism of the doctrinal schemata prepared by the theological commission under the presidency of Cardinal Ottaviani. The Pope desired that the stress be pastoral. It is likely that the papal speech greatly helped to have the liturgical document put in the first place on the agenda.
After this strong gesture of the Pope in one direction, many were surprised t)y his choice of members for the working commissions of the Council. It had been announced that the different conciliar working commissions were to be made up of sixteen bishops to be elected by the Council and eight bishops to be named by the Pope himself. Of the election of the sixteen members for the different commissions I have already spoken. Yet when the papal appointments came out everyone was impressed by the large percentage of men connected with the Curia, especially with the Holy Office. The Pope, moreover, appointed nine bishops instead of the eight mentioned in the Constitution. This gesture has forestalled the sixteen members elected by the Council ever gaining a two-thirds majority over the members by Roman appointment.
Pope John, we said, is smiling in both directions. He again made a strong gesture in favor of the reformists when he elevated the Secretariat for Christian Unity, under the presidency of Cardinal Bea, to act as a conciliar commission during the Council-even though its constitution and membership remain as it was in the preceding period of preparation. The practical consequences of this step, which transcends anything provided for by the legislation, is that the Secretariat for Christian Unity is now in a position to submit schemata to the Council, to form mixed subcommittees with other working commissions, and to exert greater infIuence.
It may be mentioned in this connection that Cardinal Bea is one of the most popular figures of the whole assembly of Council fathers. He is admired and respected everywhere, even among those who do not agree with some of his tendencies. His voice carries considerable weight in the Council. Though he has been outspoken on many issues during the last years, his modesty, simplicity, and discretion, and his utter lack of rhetoric or even eloquence profoundly impress the bishops. If he approves of something, many feel, then it cannot be rash or unwarranted.
From these remarks on the alternating ways of Pope John, we may conclude that he is not likely to intervene in the course of the Council in favor of either side. He will back the 'bishops seeking reform and he will encourage the Curia seeking restoration. It must be admitted that in this situation his daring speeches lose some of their power; it is easy to shrug one's shoulders at what the Pope has said, since he is not likely to follow it up with strong action. It is not impossible, therefore, that many of the forward-looking ideas contained in the opening speech will go unheeded just as his constitution on Latin in seminaries will go unheeded during the Council.
The third observation I wish to make deals more directly with what the Council is likely to achieve in liturgical matters. The official press releases do not tellus the precise subjects under discussion or the position taken by the various bishops who speak at the assembly. It has been suggested in the news releases, however, that such questions as the vernacular, concelebration, and Communion in two kinds, have been the subject of debate; and from the well-informed Italian press it appears that the fathers of the Council are deeply divided on these matters.
The same press, however, reports that there is unanimity among the bishops of certain areas. It happens, according to the Italian press, that a bishop will speak for all the bishops, or the majority of bishops of his country, in favor of the changes proposed in the document. It seems to me quite unlikely that such a unanimity of regional hierarchies, whether in mission territories or in the older so-called Christian lands, will be disregarded by the Council. Even if the fathers do not reach agreement on many issues dealing with public worship and therefore are unable to formulate a strong document on the role of the liturgy in the Church, I regard it as unthinkable that even a majority vote in favor of the status quo would crush the unanimous voice of bishops belonging to the same geographical area.
Councils in the Church are not parliaments in which a majority simply overrules the minority group. The Councils of the Church are regarded as holy assemblies in which the Holy Ghost produces unanimity among the fathers; and without this unanimity produced by the Spirit, even with a majority which would carry the day in any parliament, the Council cannot declare its position with confidence.
The voting in a Council does not itself determine the issue. The voting is regarded rather as a test and sign of unanimity among the fathers; and while a sprinkling of opposing voices might not be regarded as breaking the common conviction, opposing voices concentrated in certain areas and expressing the unanimous view of regional hierarchies would certainly destroy the unanimity required for strong declarations.
Thus one may conclude that even if the Council as a whole is unable to make up its mind in favor of a strong liturgical position, it will at least grant the requests of the regional hierarchies possessing a unanimous voice. That means there will be certain areas in the Church where the present liturgical uniformity will be broken and new forms introduced in public worship.
Even a fairly conservative document on the liturgy, which might discourage some who had looked for more, will introduce diversity into ecclesiastical life and liturgical practice. That, in itself, would be a victory for the movement of renewal. For myself, I believe that the movement for reform and renewal has gone so far in the Church that even a moderately conservative Council will further advance it and contribute to its spread among other nations.