Mysterium Fidei 9-14: Pastoral Concern and Anxiety

After an optimistic entry, Paul VI relates some concerns to the world’s bishops and pastors:

9. There are, however, Venerable Brothers, a number of reasons for serious pastoral concern and anxiety in this very matter that we are now discussing, and because of Our consciousness of Our Apostolic office, We cannot remain silent about them.

False and Disturbing Opinions

10. For We can see that some of those who are dealing with this Most Holy Mystery in speech and writing are disseminating opinions on Masses celebrated in private or on the dogma of transubstantiation that are disturbing the minds of the faithful and causing them no small measure of confusion about matters of faith, just as if it were all right for someone to take doctrine that has already been defined by the Church and consign it to oblivion or else interpret it in such a way as to weaken the genuine meaning of the words or the recognized force of the concepts involved.

11. To give an example of what We are talking about, it is not permissible to extol the so-called “community” Mass in such a way as to detract from Masses that are celebrated privately; or to concentrate on the notion of sacramental sign as if the symbolism—which no one will deny is certainly present in the Most Blessed Eucharist—fully expressed and exhausted the manner of Christ’s presence in this Sacrament; or to discuss the mystery of transubstantiation without mentioning what the Council of Trent had to say about the marvelous conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the Body and the whole substance of the wine into the Blood of Christ, as if they involve nothing more than “transignification,” or “transfinalization” as they call it; or, finally, to propose and act upon the opinion that Christ Our Lord is no longer present in the consecrated Hosts that remain after the celebration of the sacrifice of the Mass has been completed.

I can’t speak to the theological circles spinning in the 60′s–I wasn’t even a Catholic then. On the issues of “transignification” and “transfinalization,” two things. They don’t seem to be significant in Catholic theology today. From what I’ve read about them, they seemed more of an attempt to apply modern scientific and philosophical principles to something which frankly, is best left unexplained. By that I mean to say that the experience of liturgy is not something that can always be analyzed so as to come to a verifiable truth. Or as the progressive liturgists often say, “Don’t explain the symbol; experience it.”

12. Everyone can see that the spread of these and similar opinions does great harm to belief in and devotion to the Eucharist.

Purpose of the Encyclical

13. And so, with the aim of seeing to it that the hope to which the Council has given rise—that a new wave of Eucharistic devotion will sweep over the Church—not be reduced to nil through the sowing of the seeds of false opinions, We have decided to use Our apostolic authority and speak Our mind to you on this subject, Venerable Brothers.

14. We certainly do not deny that those who are spreading these strange opinions are making a praiseworthy effort to investigate this lofty Mystery and to set forth its inexhaustible riches and to make it more understandable to the (people) of today; rather, We acknowledge this and We approve of it. But We cannot approve the opinions that they set forth, and We have an obligation to warn you about the grave danger that these opinions involve for true faith.

We’ve read Sacrosanctum Concilium, and I don’t recall a strong emphasis on Eucharistic devotion in the document. More generally, the council bishops spoke of achieving a certain cooperation with God’s grace through participation, intelligibility, and a deeper spirituality. That said, I find it striking that the pope would emphasize Eucharistic devotion so. Clearly he thought such devotion was lacking in 1965, otherwise he wouldn’t have stressed it so strongly.

The brief mention of private Masses is curious. The conciliar liturgical reforms were directed at lay participation and understanding. It would be logical that more effort be put into the communal celebration of Mass, and that post-conciliar liturgists would be leaving the Mass without a congregation to itself.

Other comments?

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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5 Responses to Mysterium Fidei 9-14: Pastoral Concern and Anxiety

  1. Gavin says:

    I don’t know that I’d say disbelief in the Presence and an undue focus on “community” are things of the past.

  2. Liam says:

    I would say there are certainly segments of progressive-to-radical Catholicism that did not take these cautions to heart, shall we say. I know I encountered this still in recent years, and it has not yet faded in those segments, even to the point that there are those who advance theological opinions that would make Ulrich Zwingli (and, need I add, Jean Calvin & Martin Luther?) seem conservative by comparison. Often, it’s sloppy or wooly thinking/expression, betraying a lack of understanding of basic Catholic theology and teachings regarding metaphysics & epistemology. But it’s not always that – there are people who appear to be conducting a measure of theological guerrilla insurgency on these issues to this day. Sometimes sails are trimmed when faced with critical evaluation and the opinions are then expressed more by what is not said more than by what is said.

    The explanation of these passages, I was explained a generation ago, was that they were prompted by pastors and theologians who read far too much change into SC than was intended. Given what transpired afterward, it seems the Pope was on target.

    As for the issue of private Masses, the expression by the Pope in the letter is perhaps subtle. The Pope is not elevating the Missa privata. Rather, he is admonishing against denigration of it. That’s different. He is admonishing the self-appointed admonishers. This distinction is important, because this turns out to be a recurring problem, since many people took it on themselves to elevate into norms things that Rome did not actually elevate or at least elevate in the same way. Thus much grief was had that was unnecessary.

  3. Todd says:

    Regarding disbelief in the Presence and an undue emphasis on community, there is a simple solution: find out if it is really true by asking people directly.

  4. Liam says:

    Ah, but that would raise fears of an Inquisition revived. And issues of emphasis don’t readily reveal in interrogatories. So that’s not quite a simple or useful solution, even putting aside issues of sincerity and lack of self-awareness.

  5. Todd says:

    I see your point, Liam. However, I’ve become increasingly irritated at the accusation that mainstream modern Catholics have somehow lost a sense of the Real Presence or have an overblown sense of community. Compared to what? Isolated radtrads who frown at other Catholics for holding hands at the Lord’s Prayer?

    If the USCCB were really interested in the facts, they wouldn’t start an Inquisition, but they might commission a study to find out what Catholics really believe. Concerning that Gallup misstep from ’94, all I’ll say is that the msm is a convenient scapegoat for cultural decline, except when it strokes conservative ideology.

    As far as the concern about overblown community is concerned, given the losses as Catholics and their parishes moved to the chill of American suburbia, why shouldn’t modern Catholics long for one of the great strengths of the pre-conciliar/pre-WWII parishes?

    I think a real poll isn’t done–and probably won’t be–because some Catholics, including some bishops, don’t want to be bothered by the facts, even the possibility that belief in the Real Presence might not have been all that strong before the Council (I doubt that Paul VI was picking up a two-year trend when he wrote this encyclical).

    If anything, reading this encyclical supports my contention that Eucharistic catechesis wasn’t so great before 1962, and at least in the US, Vatican II probably saved American parishes from even greater hemorrhages and an expanding ignorance of the Eucharist.

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