10/15/2012, 00.00
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50 years after the Council, Lumen Gentium and the rediscovery of collegiality

by Amina Makhlouf
Responding to Paul VI’s question: "Church of Christ what do you say about yourself?”, the search for answers rooted in tradition, rediscovering the word “communion” from the experience of early Christian communities, the definition of "People of God" from biblical exegesis.

Rome (AsiaNews) - A Pentecost of the Spirit, as John XXIII imagined, an "aggiornamento" [updating - ed] of the Church or the first global event? However one wishes to define it, in December 1965 after three years and 58 days of reflection, 136 congregations and 527 general elections the Second Vatican Council restored a renewed Church to the world as well as 16 documents that still today are key to understanding the challenges and tasks of Christians.

All the Council Fathers, but also those who for various reasons were called to consider the structure and agenda of the Council assembly were of the opinion that it was really the Church, in its essence and in its foundations, the object of the work. For this reason Lumen Gentium is without doubt one of the key texts in assessing the Second Vatican Council and its success on a historical level history. 50 years since the opening of the extraordinary gathering, the Council constitution, adopted after an often turbulent and rocky process, on November 21, 1964, is the litmus test to see how the Council has entered into the life of Christian communities and Church practice.

As repeatedly stated by Card. Joseph Ratzinger, in his speeches before ascending to the papacy, conciliar ecclesiology revolves around a number of themes which dominated post-war theological reflection. The idea of ​​the People of God, the collegiality of the bishops, the role and meaning of the Church after the assaults of modernity, the sacramentality of Episcopal ordination and its revaluation in relation to the primacy of the Pope, the dynamic between the Church local and Church universal, the ecumenical dimension and openness to other faiths: these were the unsolved problems that theologians had inherited from the abrupt ending of Vatican I, amplified by the cultural acceleration impressed on a world emerging from two wars.

This hot topic became the subject of discussion, at times even heated discussion, inside the Vatican basilica. In response to the question posed by Paul VI at the opening of the second session of the Council, "Church of Christ what do you say about yourself?" people sought answers rooted in tradition, rediscovering the word "communion" from the experience of early Christian communities, the definition of "People of God" from biblical exegesis.

As recounted by one of the chroniclers of the time, Raniero La Valle, "It seemed as if the Council were to focus solely on the Church. Luckily by dealing with the Church it discovered that this was a people, humanity, and therefore it  had to go beyond the limits of an institutional, hierarchical, discourse to arrive at a vision that was no longer vertical but communal, in which the mystery of the Church, the sacrament of the union between God and men, was at the centre".  An overturning of perspective: not the Church as a perfect society, rigidly constructed according to orders and ministries, but the place where God reveals himself in his relationship with His creatures. Not quite the "Copernican revolution" identified by some historians, given that the definition of the Church as the "Mystical Body of Christ" was a priority, but different accents that redrew the face of the Church in a more "choral" manner. It wasn't until the Synod of 1985, convened 20 years after the closing of Vatican II that its reception was reviewed, to insist on the image of the Church as communion.

The laity also took on a new role as protagonists within the ecclesial community. It was in fact the Constitution on the Church that gave greater value to the task and the mission of all baptized, promoting the ministry of all for the good of the world. "The laity at the opening of the Council - recounts a very careful observer, Gianfranco Svidercoschi - was a mysterious object. It had no theological definition, it was neither flesh nor fish, cleric or religious. Placing the chapter on the People of God prior to the one on the hierarchy in the constitution allowed a maturation of the whole body of the Church".  Although the theological category of the "People of God" was later exploited, lending itself to a ideological and political reading of a Marxist hue, there is no doubt that it constituted one of the most important innovations of Vatican II.

Moreover, with Lumen Gentium, the relationship between the successor of Peter and the college of the Apostles, between the Pope and the bishops was defined. The Council certifies the "sacramentality of the Episcopate", recalling the figure of the shepherd and the scope of his ministry. The Council Fathers rediscovered "collegiality", its value for the Church, emphasizing the role of the bishops, after the imbalance in favour of the primacy of Peter and the infallibility of the Pope sanctioned by Vatican I. Msgr. Rino Fisichella (president of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization) explains "Peter is the first of the bishops, the one to whom the power of the keys was given. The Council does not question his leadership, rather it affirms that it is not carried out in isolation, on the contrary in a company of faith, through a college to which he himself belongs. The Pope maintains the prerogatives which are the ones that Christ himself has entrusted him, but he knows that he is accompanied by the successors of the apostles. It is a college that recognizes itself as being cum Petro and sub Petro, expressions which help us understand the balance and novelty contained in the conciliar texts. "

Of course, suffice it to look at the history of the last 50 years to recognize how certain structures and initiatives that have made the Church more relevant to its true nature, owe their very existence to the concept of collegiality. The national and continental Episcopal conferences, the instrument of the Synod, revived by the Council thanks to its comparison with the Eastern tradition, which have nourished a greater alignment of the Church to its mission. Today we see bishops of distant worlds together with the pope in positions of governance within the Church, to compare different experiences on common problems, to participate in the challenge of evangelization responsibility, become a sign of unity in the world.

The Church that Lumen Gentium presented to the world had acquired a greater awareness, she found herself once again Catholic and missionary, launched toward holiness, decidedly more dynamic. The ramparts that the theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar spoke of in his famous 1952 essay, were overcome, defensive walls had crumbled and a Church renewed faced the modern world and its culture. Discovering herself, perhaps, somewhat more vulnerable.



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