Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Pope Paul VI's prophetic one-two punch

Most people are aware of the prophetic nature of Humanae vitae. Although widely ignored and reviled, it was the Holy Spirit's warning against trends in the life and thinking of the Church regarding marriage and sexuality. Had Catholics (not to mention humanity) headed that prophetic warning, we may have avoided many sorrows, inclduing, perhaps, the worst of the sexual abuse scandal (prepared for by the dissenting formation faculty at seminaries in the 1960s and 1970s). It took John Paul II's Theology of the Body to help many people see the depth of the danger that getting the Church's teaching on contraception wrong meant for a Church that is the Bride of Christ.

I recently read another, earlier encyclical by Pope Paul VI that has the same cautionary tone that HV does--Mysterium Fidei, "On the Holy Eucharist," issued right after Vatican II and in the midst of the great liturgical enthusiasm that was sweeping the Church that had just received the Council's Sacrosanctum Conciliim, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Paul VI warns against three trends in the theology and pastoral practice of the Church in 1965
  • the tendency to replace the doctrine of Transubstantiation with a doctrine that relies exclusively on the symbolic nature of the sacrament, thus diminishing the sense of the radical nature of the reality of Christ's presence in the Eucharist,
  • the rejection of the value of private Masses, thus diminishing the sense of the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist, and
  • the tendency to jettison completely and disparage worship of the Blessed Sacrament outside of the Mass.

Polls, of course, show the effect of these trends have had on the faith of the believer in the doctrine of the Real Presence and of the sacrifician nature of the Mass.

It is telling that in the introduction of MF, Pope Paul VI twice mentions the spousal nature of the Church's relationship with Christ, thus linking these two encyclicals. The first mention is in the very first sentence, indicating perhaps the importance of the connection. “The Mystery of Faith, that is the ineffable gifts of the Eucharist which she has received from Christ her spouse as a pledge of his boundless love” (MF 1).

I think a fair reading of the Theology of the Body will show the basis for a link between a waning faith in the Eucharist and a waning adherence to the Church's teahcing on contraception. A strong sense of the spousal nature of the Church's relationship to Christ is the binding analogy. It is sad, for instance, that so many women's religious communities have lost the sense that their first vocation is as bride of Christ. It is also sad that we so often call the Church "it" rather than "she."


John Gerardi said...

Prof. Gotcher,

This is Tim's friend John Gerardi, from ND; I just stumbled onto your blog and I really enjoy it. I'll be sure to read this encyclical.

Robert C said...

Good stuff, Dr. G! Great linkage.

Robert Gotcher said...

Hi, John. Welcome aboard!

Joe said...

Much good food for thought :-)