Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Bishop William McNaughton's Recollections on the Council

Bishop William McNaughton, 85, the first bishop of the Incheon diocese and the last foreign bishop in the Korean Church, was interviewed in Rome after attending the outdoor Mass in St. Peter's Square, which commemorated the start, 50 years earlier, of Vatican II. The  Peace Weekly, taken from  CNS, reported his  recollections of the council, noting that he is one of 70 still alive of those who attended the council.

Speaking about his first visit to Rome, the bishop said that because of television he felt he was at the gate of heaven, seeing the basilica with all the lights  turned on. He attended every session except for two because of illness. For him, the highlight of the council was the approval of the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, a magnificent document that devotes a whole chapter to the "people of God." That term is often interpreted as a reference to the laity, but a more careful reading of the constitution makes it clear that it refers to everyone in the Church: pope and bishops, as well as laity.

Bishop McNaughton speaks with regret that there has been so much ignorance and misunderstanding of the council documents. The Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy, for instance, authorized moving the tabernacle to a separate devotional chapel, he said, but many simply shunted the Eucharist to the side of the main sanctuary. This is a reason, he feels, there is not a full understanding of what the tabernacle means. The document also called for fewer statues in churches, but some removed all statues and put the Blessed Mother's statue out in a corridor or lobby. Another example, he said, citing The Decree on the Renewal of the Religious Life, was the directive that urged religious women to modify their habit according to circumstances of time and place and the needs of the ministry. It did not say habits should be removed because the habit is a "sign of consecration." All are obvious examples, he said, that the documents were not being read, or not read closely enough.

In the interview, the bishop says the council must be understood in continuity with the church's tradition and not as a radical break with the past. "Look at the footnotes," he said. "There is a  constant reference there to the various ecumenical councils of the Church and to the fathers of the Church. So it is a continuity."

The bishop, accordingly, rejects arguments that the council was to blame for the decline in Catholic observance and the rise of secularism over the last century. "The council did not cause this, he said. It was the society we created that brought this change into our lives.

Our task now is winning back the world, which is the aim of the new evangelization. However unpromising the political landscape may appear for that project to succeed, Bishop McNaughton is ultimately hopeful that it will.

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