I’m grateful for Neil’s series on Christian Unity Week (not to mention his usual outstanding essays). In a tag-team spirit, let’s delve into today’s section 6 of Unitatis Redintegratio. The bishops tell us that continual renewal is part of who and what the Church is:
Every renewal of the Church(Cf. CONC. LATERANSE V, Sess. XII (1517), Constitutio Constituti: Mansi 32, 988 B-C.) is essentially grounded in an increase of fidelity to her own calling. Undoubtedly this is the basis of the movement toward unity.
Christ summons the Church to continual reformation as she sojourns here on earth. The Church is always in need of this, in so far as she is an institution of (people) here on earth. Thus if, in various times and circumstances, there have been deficiencies in moral conduct or in church discipline, or even in the way that church teaching has been formulated-to be carefully distinguished from the deposit of faith itself-these can and should be set right at the opportune moment.
This is an important acknowledgement that the Church is in part, an institution populated by fallible human beings. Laxity in morals or discipline does reflect badly on the entire Church, even a poor attempt at teaching something otherwise true and good. What does “setting right” entail? Changing methods with more or less explanation? Apologies? Expressions of regret that move beyond the recitation of words, but lead into actions? We have many examples of this from the previous decades.
Church renewal has therefore notable ecumenical importance. Already in various spheres of the Church’s life, this renewal is taking place. The Biblical and liturgical movements, the preaching of the word of God and catechetics, the apostolate of the laity, new forms of religious life and the spirituality of married life, and the Church’s social teaching and activity-all these should be considered as pledges and signs of the future progress of ecumenism.
The council bishops acknowledge that the work of renewal has predated Vatican II. What does it mean for the Church to be willing to examine and renew or reform these listed aspects? Does this play out significantly in the local spheres where local communities brush up against one another? In which areas is the renewal more laying groundwork for a future yet realized? Which areas have seen good progress for their own agenda as well as the ecumenical front?