Fr Harry E. Winter OMI, USA
October 13, 2012
Vatican II and the Holy Spirit
Fr. Thomas Ryan C.S.P., the director of the Paulist North American Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, has summed up very well the anemic place of the Holy Spirit in the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church. (By Latin Rite, we mean the 90% of Roman Catholics who do not belong to any of the Eastern Catholic Rites in union with Rome). He cites, in a May 2012 column, the great Dominican theologian at Vatican II, Yves Congar O.P.: “The Spirit is the half-known God.”
As Vatican II began, the Council Fathers attending from the Eastern Churches, and those from the Eastern Churches separated from Rome attending as observers (the latter’s numbers at the Council grew in the second to fourth sessions), noted the absence of the Holy Spirit in the draft documents. As those documents came to the Council floor for debate, the Easterners asked that the role and place of the Holy Spirit be strengthened. And so it was.
After the Council, theologians noted that the insertion reflected the lack of awareness of the Spirit’s role and place in Western theology and spirituality. Ryan’s column referred to above documents the need for us to give a deeper and more integrated place to the Holy Spirit (see his website www.tomryancsp.org, “Selected Newspaper Columns: Come Holy Spirit”).
It seems, though, that the Holy Spirit took this effort into His/Her own hands, at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA, USA, on the weekend of Feb. 17-19, 1967, over a year after the Council closed. We commonly date the emergence of the Catholic Charismatic Movement, which changed the face of Catholicism, from the experience about fifteen Catholic students had there on this weekend. The Catholic Charismatics recognized that they had been “baptized in the Holy Spirit,” and developed the “Life in the Spirit Seminar” to enable others to undergo this baptism. Vatican II theologians such as Cardinal Leo Suenens immediately saw the critical importance of the Charismatic Movement (which sprang up in all the Christian Churches at about this time) for the implementation of Vatican II. Suenens persuaded Pope Paul VI to give his blessing and guidance to the Charismatic Movement. Undoubtedly, the sixteen documents of Vatican II which spoke of the Holy Spirit now received much closer scrutiny and implementation from Catholic laity in the Charismatic Movement.
There is an interesting parallel to what happened in 1967, when one looks at how the Rule of St. Benedict did not take hold in Italy, where Benedict wrote it, but in Ireland. Remember that the Rule of St. Benedict is probably the second most important book for Roman Catholics and Western Civilization, after the Bible. Its sense of discipline and order did not appeal to the Italian mentality (centuries later, the much more free-wheeling Franciscan spirituality did). But on the western edge of Europe, there was a culture used to the discipline and order of pagan chieftains, which was hungering for the same within Christianity. Historians have marveled how the wedding of Celtic warrior ethos with Benedictine discipline resulted, not only in Ireland becoming the Island of Saints and Scholars, but in the Christian evangelization of Western Europe by Celtic missionaries.
The sixteen documents of Vatican II gave form to the enthusiasm of the Charismatic Movement. And, undoubtedly, the vigor of the Charismatic Movement enabled the sixteen documents of Vatican II to be studied and implemented as the Charismatic Movement grew and spread.
In Vatican II’s Constitution on the Liturgy, our public worship was made less rigid. Charismatic Masses, which can last three hours with many testimonies from individuals, would have been impossible before the Constitution on the Liturgy. It took several generations, but Charismatics learned to integrate the reverence of the pre-Vatican II Mass with the participation in liturgy so requested by the Fathers and experts at Vatican II. Usually, Charismatic Masses feature both periods of silence, and the hymns and testimonies of joyful participation. The Spirit is acknowledged in both ways: reverence and joyful involvement.
Congar’s massive I Believe in the Holy Spirit (English version 1983, combining three volumes into one) was planned before the Charismatic Movement began. But he acknowledges in the introduction that the movement gave “a contemporary interest and even an urgency with which I am favourably disposed to comply.” His book constantly alternates between an historical examination of the place of the Holy Spirit in Scripture and Tradition, with Vatican II and the Charismatic Movement.
us conclude that, in examining how Vatican II is being implemented fifty years
from its opening, it is simply impossible to look at the sixteen documents
without looking at some of the major changes in Christianity since then.
One of those major changes is the Charismatic Movement.
May the movement, with its deep and integrated place for the Holy Spirit,
help us to see the Spirit’s action both in the Church and in the World.