Revisions and Reflections
If by "Church" we mean our coming-together, we may say that Ecclesiology is the study of how we stay together. So long as the founder-Apostles were alive, this caused few problems, especially since everybody thought that the world was coming to an end. Ecclesiology was born when it was realised that the world was not coming to an end just yet, and especially after the Apostles died. Then, as in the centuries which followed, the Church has had to face the question of survival: how to stay together and pass on our Christian way of life to the next generation.
At a moment of deep crisis for the Church, the Gregorian Reform, a thousand years ago, successfully reinterpreted the Church to the emerging western European nations of the later middle ages. To a feudal society that thought in terms of pyramids, the Church protected itself as a well-ordered and efficient pyramid. This structure was so firmly established that it survived into our own day, long after society had ceased to think in this way.
The Second Vatican Council replaced the medićval pyramid by a structure where more participation at all levels was required. It -
- prioritised the People of God;
- enabled a collegial form of government, both at the centre and locally in the particular Churches;
- allowed for local decisions to be taken according to the principles of subsidiarity;
- allowed a measure of puralism.
The Code of Canon Law was updated to take account of these deep changes. One of the more significant changes is the new role of the laity, who were invited to a higher level of participation in Church life, and responsibility for the Church's mission. At parish level, these changes have become realities in a number of ways: active participation in the liturgy; sharing of certain forms of ministry; re-appraisal of the role of parish clergy, parish councils, and a new emphasis on adult education.
Meantime the Church as a whole began to show a new face to the world at large. From being detached, the Church has entered a new era of commitment to the joys and sorrows of the world.
For a time the Church seemed to be getting on fine with the implementation of Vatican II. New liturgical arrangements, new de-centralised decision-making procedures, ścumenical enthusiasm, forward-looking initiatives in theology and catechetics (the 1971 Catechetical Directory), together with many more initiatives in the local Churches (e.g. the pastoral letters of the United States Bishops on nuclear arms and on feminism). The People of God were acting collegially, and we were getting results.
Our Roman Catholic Church will have little difficulty of retaining its vigour in this millennium. The ecclesiology of Vatican II enables us to be open to the future, to the world at large, and to bring the message to both. Our Church will survive more sure if we can identify real needs in the world and seek to satisfy those needs. We shall work more effectively if we apply the ecclesiology of Vatican II and work within its framework.
We have the promise of Jesus that he will be with us until the end (Mt. 28:20). And we have the re-assurance of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, the soul of the Church.