Monday, March 28, 2016

Anniversary of the Priestly Ordination of St. Josemaria Escriva (March 28, 1925)

Historically, Opus Dei began with celibate laymen. There was need for ministerial priests who had the same spirit of becoming “other Christs” in secular life. It was not enough to be a good priest to serve these men and women with Holy Mass, preaching the Word and, above all, the sacrament of penance. To have this same spirit, Escriva understood that the priests had to come from among the lay vocations thus forming a single class of laity and ministerial priests with the same vocation pace the irreducible difference of the sacramental specificity of Baptism with its “character” and Order with its. [“Character” is the ontological difference of ontological orientation or relation]. The laity are ordered with mission to the secular world; ministerial priest is ordered to the laity as servants with the mission of activating their sharing in the priesthood of Christ. They do this by celebrating Mass, preaching the divine Word and administering the sacraments, especially Penance.

            What was convulsively earth shattering was the fact that laymen and ministerial priests, pace the irreducible differences, had the same vocation as “other Christs”, and the Church granted the nihil Obstat on this arrangement on the feast of our Lady’s act of faith that engendered the physical Christ in her, the feast of the divine Maternity (October 11, 1943). This pristine arrangement of the early Church had no place in the structural configurations of Canon Law (1917), and although now existing de facto with regard to Opus Dei, Opus Dei had to jury rig a canonical juridical form within the Church that did not fit it, but could do it the least damage in approving it. This was the secular institute that perdured until the approval of the personal prelature in 1982 that permitted Opus Dei to be what it really was in the words of Escriva: “a little bit of the Church.”

            It is most interesting to consider the proximity of John XXIII calling for the Second Vatican Council in 1958 and the development of the understanding of the Church in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium). The first schema before Lumen Gentium was called De Ecclesia (November 1962). A comparison of the first and last version is revealing as to development. Maximilian Heinrich Heim in his “Joseph Ratzinger… Fundamentals of Ecclesiology with Reference to Lumen Gentium) writes “A comparison of the two versions shows that the Constitution on the Church, as Karl Rahner remarked, ‘was not conceived from the start as a symmetrical and complete outline of a comprehensive ecclesiology.’ Rather, it ‘grew slowly and to some extent by chance through the supplementation of the preconciliar schema, which initially intended simply to treat certain particular themes’ that the Roman Curia considered to be of current interest.’”[1] Further he says, “Reference to Lumen Gentium remains indispensable for the correct interpretation of these documents, inasmuch as they can be understood properly only in view of the image of the church on which they are based.”

            Heim then offers “What Was ‘New’ about Lumen Gentium” followed by “Revitalization of the entire tradition of the Church.” “One objection to the original schema on the Church, De Ecclesia, was that ‘it was too rigid, too scholastic, too conventional and employed an excessively juridical style.’ That is why the council Father attempted to formulate a synthesis of the Church’s self-understanding with her biblical and patristic roots and thus to free ecclesiology from its narrow, juridical-hierarchical confines. Specifically, as Gonzalez Hernandez explains, this happened through ‘a rediscovery of forgotten aspects that had always been part of her heritage, a novel experience of new dimensions of this one Church by means of the conscious and renewed assimilation of her old contents of maintaining the never-fading novelty of Christ as it constantly renews itself and making it accessible to all people of all times.”

   Heim goes on: “Lumen Gentium as ‘the work of the Council:’” “The definitive (third) version of the schema on the Church was finally passed on November 21, 1964 with 2, 151 yes-votes against 5 nays, and it was solemnly promulgated on the same day. Gerard Philips, the chief editor of Lumen Gentium, commented in retrospect on the work that had been accomplished: “During the time between the 1963 and 1964 sessions, the Theological Commission made use of the interval to bring the text that had been presented into agreement with the wishes of the Council Fathers. More than is generally believed, the Constitution on the Church is the work of the Council itself and of its most active members.”

            The point Heim wants to make is that Lumen Gentium is a work of the living Council and not simply the Council approval of the work of theologians. In a word, it is truly the work of the Spirit. He wants to show the “extent to which the suggestions of the Council Fathers influenced the final form of the document. The purpose of this survey is, first, to mention several central modifications of the second version of the text of Lumen Gentium and, secondly, to demonstrate the breadth of its image of the Church. Unlike the uncompleted Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus of Vatican I (July 1870) or even the schema De Ecclesia (November 1962), this image is no longer focused on the institutional dimension of the church but rather makes evident … ‘the dynamic of a living body, which is constantly growing.’

            “The first chapter, ‘The Mystery of the Church,’ was not planned at all in the schema De Ecclesia. The original title and contents of the first chapter of that schema, ‘The nature of the Church Militant,’ had been rejected by the majority of the Council Fathers already in the first session on account of the argument brought forward by Cardinals Frings, Lionart, and Dopfner: ‘The Church is a hidden mystery, and the study of it must be sustained by faith and love.’ According to Charles Moeller, it is ‘as good as certain that this perspective owes its place in De Ecclesia to the influence of the German theologians’…The expansion, in the second draft, of the passage about the ‘kingdom of God,’ which on earth has it beginning and core in the Church, underscores the dynamic understanding of the Church in Lumen Gentium….

            “The second chapter, ‘On the People of God,’ was inserted into the second draft of the schema on the Church from the year 1963, immediately after the chapter on the episcopate. In the final version of the Constitution on the Church, it was placed before the chapter on the hierarchy so as to indicate that all Christians – ordained and lay – belong to the one People of God and share in the common priesthood of the baptized. In this rearrangement, artaicle 13 of Lumen Gentium was completely rewritten. In it the foundation is laid for a universalism that is characteristic of the entire docuemtn and also builds an ecumenical bridge: ‘All men are called to belong to the new people of God. Wherefore this people, while remaining one and only one, is to be spread throughout the whole world and must exist in all ages”…

“The fourth chapter, ‘The Laity,’ was approved in the final vote by the largest majority. It emphasized the particular importance of the lay people by explaining that they share in their own way in the priestly, prophetic, and kingly office of Christ by living out their faith in the world. Through baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist they are enabled to carry on their specific apostolate in the world: “They must assist each other to live holier lives even in their daily occupations. In this way the world may be permeated by the spirit of Christ and it may more effectively fulfill its purpose in justice, charity, and peace. The laity have the principal role in the overall fulfillment of this duty. Therefore, by their competence in secular training and by their activity, elevated from within by the grace of Christ, let them vigorously contribute their effort, so that created goods may be perfected by human labor, technical skill, and civic culture for the benefit of all men according to the design of the Creator and the light of his Word. May the goods of this world by more equitably distributed among all men, and may they in their own way be conducive to universal progress in human and Christian freedom” (LG #36).

Escriva: “I want all of you my children, priest and laity, to have one thing clearly engraved on your minds and on your hearts: something which can never ge regarded as an external ornament, but which is indeed the very hinge and foundation of our divine vocation. Whether priest or layperson, each of us must have, in all things and at al times, a truly priestly soul and a fully lay mentality.”

Priestly Soul: “self-gift” is mediating between self and God in the service of others. It is the meaning of faith as receiving the Word with one’s whole self, and therefore, it must always involve deeds. Our Lady was the first one to hear the Word of God and doing it by the seed of self-gift as receptivity.

Lay Mentality: the freedom prior to choice that is self-determination. This deepest understanding of freedom is always within the horizon of the subject, the “I,” in that it is the self mastery of the self. This understanding of freedom is prior ontologically and chronologically to the freedom of choice of this and that.

            With the above, I hazard to suggest that the proclamation of the radical equality of all in the Church as lay faithful and ministerial priest would not have occurred without occurrences of 1943 in the life St. Josemaria Escriva. In fact, I would hazard to suggest that the Council would not have been called at all nor would it have taken the direction it took of rejecting schemas 1 and 2 of De Ecclesia and become Lumen Gentium with the radical equality of all the baptized as “People of God” with the equally ontological diversity of minister, laity and religious. I would add that this diversity is not merely “functional” but ontological as relational. That is, the divine Persons are ontologically “One” and ontologically “diverse” in that they are all ontologically homo ousios but the Father is greater than I” (Jn. 14, 28). The insight into the mystery is to see that the “person” is constitutively relational, and not accidentally so. This is so in the Trinity and in human persons imaging the Trinity. This equality and irreducible diversity is true in male and female, and in ministerial priest and lay faithful.  Such was the impact of Escriva’s priesthood on the understanding of the Church and personhood.

[1] M.H. Heim, “Joseph Ratzinger, Life in the Church and Living Theology – Fundamentals of Ecclesiology with Reference to Lumen Gentium,” Ignatius (2007) 30-31.

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