Questions answered on Vatican document - Catholic Courier

Questions answered on Vatican document

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s July 10 document on the church disturbed many people, who were troubled by the document’s insistence that no Christian community can be called a church if it lacks true sacraments, the priesthood and the Eucharist.

The document presents questions on the church and offers answers on each.

One question asks why Vatican II used the term “church” in reference to the Oriental churches that are not in full communion with the Catholic Church.
The council did so, the CDF said, because these churches have true sacraments, the priesthood and the Eucharist and merit the title “particular or local” church. Even so, these churches “lack something in their condition as particular churches,” namely papal primacy.

Another question asks why the texts of Vatican II and the magisterium following the council’s 1965 close do not use the title of “church” for Christian communities born of the Reformation.

The CDF said it is because “these communities do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of orders and are therefore deprived of a constitutive element of the church. These ecclesial communities that, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the eucharistic mystery cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called churches in the proper sense.”

The CDF claims thereby that all non-Catholic churches and ecclesial communities suffer from certain “defects” (Decree on Ecumenism, n. 3), namely papal primacy, or the priesthood, the Eucharist and papal primacy.
The accompanying CDF commentary concedes, in line with Vatican II, that these separated churches and ecclesial communities contain “diverse elements of sanctification and truth” and “undoubtedly possess as such an ecclesial character and consequently a salvific significance.”

The CDF and the council are saying that the Catholic Church alone fully possesses all the elements that are essential to the institutional integrity of the Body of Christ.

Vatican II did not say that outside the Catholic Church there are only elements of the Body of Christ. Father Francis Sullivan, SJ, wrote in the June 2006 issue of Theological Studies that the council “recognized the presence and salvific roles of churches and ecclesial communities that are not in full communion with the Catholic Church.”

Richard Gaillardetz, chaired professor of Catholic Studies at the University of Toledo, highlights the point in his article in the Aug. 27-Sept. 3 issue of America magazine. He cites a key observation by Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity: “Only in this sacramental and institutional respect can the Council find a lack (defectus) in the churches and ecclesial communities of the Reformation. Both Catholic fullness and the defectus of the others are therefore sacramental and institutional, and not existential or even moral in nature.”

In other words, the concept of “fullness” does not preclude the reality of non-Catholic churches and ecclesial communities also being an integral part of the Body of Christ.

And the concept of “defect” does not mean that the Catholic Church is morally and spiritually superior to non-Catholic communities. Specific non-Catholic communities can be more effective instruments of grace and salvation than comparable Catholic communities.

Father McBrien is a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame.

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