Evangelii Gaudium: Pope Francis rebukes conservative Catholics (part 4)

Quotes from the papal teaching document “Evangelii Gaudium”, with my commentary.

“there can be no true evangelization without the explicit proclamation of Jesus as Lord” EG 110

Pope Francis is sometimes accused of favoring a disordered type of ecumenism, that sees all religions as more or less equal. Nothing could be further from the truth. He teaches that all true evangelization explicitly proclaims to the whole world that Jesus is Lord. He goes on to say that the “saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ must be your absolute priority.”

“She [the Church] is certainly a mystery rooted in the Trinity, yet she exists concretely in history as a people of pilgrims and evangelizers, transcending any institutional expression, however necessary.” EG 111

Conservative Catholics often make the mistake of seeing the Church as a hierarchical institution, without any mystery, and with sharply defined borders, outside of which no one is saved. But the truth is that the Church is the mystical body of Christ. Her members include the formal members, who have received formal Baptism, and non-formal members, who have received a non-formal baptism of desire or blood. The expression that outside the Church, there is no salvation, is only true if the Church is understood in this broad sense, which includes many mystical members who are not formally Catholic or Christian.

“The salvation which God offers us is the work of his mercy. No human efforts, however good they may be, can enable us to merit so great a gift.” EG 112

Pope Francis has been accused of teaching the error of salvation by works. Again, this is a false accusation. He clearly states that we do not merit salvation by our efforts or works. Christ merited salvation for us, by His death on the Cross. But it is also true, as the Council of Trent taught, that once we accept that free gift of prevenient justification, we can cooperate with grace and thereby merit an eternal reward.

“The salvation which God has wrought, and the Church joyfully proclaims, is for everyone.” EG 113

The offer of salvation is given to all human persons, due to the universal salvific will of God. Some conservatives are fond of saying that God is not required to save anyone. While that may be true, in the abstract hypothetical, Divine Revelation and the Magisterium have always taught that, in fact, God has decided to offer salvation to all.

Next, Pope Francis speaks about the value of culture and the positive relationship between Christianity and culture.

“In these first two Christian millennia, countless peoples have received the grace of faith, brought it to flower in their daily lives and handed it on in the language of their own culture…. When properly understood, cultural diversity is not a threat to Church unity…. It is he [the Holy Spirit] who brings forth a rich variety of gifts, while at the same time creating a unity which is never uniformity but a multifaceted and inviting harmony.” EG 116, 117

The subtext here is a rejection by the Pope of the traditionalist ideal that would have only one culture, rooted in Medieval times, and only one preeminent language for the Mass and Church documents, Latin. The Pope favors celebrating the Mass in every language, and permitting a certain limited but useful inculturation in the form of the Mass.

“While it is true that some cultures have been closely associated with the preaching of the Gospel and the development of Christian thought, the revealed message is not identified with any of them; its content is transcultural. Hence in the evangelization of new cultures, or cultures which have not received the Christian message, it is not essential to impose a specific cultural form, no matter how beautiful or ancient it may be, together with the Gospel. The message that we proclaim always has a certain cultural dress, but we in the Church can sometimes fall into a needless hallowing of our own culture, and thus show more fanaticism than true evangelizing zeal.” EG 117

Again, this is a rebuke of the traditionalist idea that every Mass would be exactly the same, the Latin Mass, and no cultural elements or variety of form would be permitted. Pope Francis rejects this idea about liturgical form as “more fanaticism” than true zeal.

“We cannot demand that peoples of every continent, in expressing their Christian faith, imitate modes of expression which European nations developed at a particular moment of their history, because the faith cannot be constricted to the limits of understanding and expression of any one culture. It is an indisputable fact that no single culture can exhaust the mystery of our redemption in Christ.” EG 118

It seems to me that Pope Francis is moving toward a decision to permit changes to the form of the Mass, so that the Mass will have many forms in many places. And he may also be moving toward a decision to restrict the Latin form of the Mass. His many comments on this topic in EG make it clear that he holds the Latin Mass in disfavor, as a form that can often be an obstacle to evangelization.

Right now, conservatives are responding to EG in a number of ways. They ignore whatever parts they dislike, emphasizing the passages they like. They simply disagree with the Pope’s assertions on certain points, as if his teaching were merely an opinion — one that they treat with disrespect and denigration. They offer radical re-interpretation of what the Pope wrote, claiming that he “really meant” something else. They even scan the various translations of the document, and use a claim of translation errors to nullify passages with which they disagree.

I thought that when Pope Francis began to teach truths that were not to the liking of conservatives, they would respond by leaving the Church. Now I think that it will take more than teaching to affect them. They are accustomed to treating the teaching of Popes and Councils as mere propositions, subject to their own pretended authority.

What will happen next? Pope Francis might restrict the Latin Mass, and open the form of the vernacular Mass to alterations by Bishops’ Conferences, individual Bishops and perhaps even individual priests. This action might cause conservatives to depart, in what will be the outset of the great apostasy. Pope Francis might also approve of women deacons and appoint women Cardinals, much to the dismay of the most conservative Catholics. I think it will take some action on the part of the Pope to mar the mood of those conservatives who long ago departed from the Faith by rejecting Vatican II and by deciding that they are above the Magisterium to judge all its assertions.

“In all the baptized, from first to last, the sanctifying power of the Spirit is at work, impelling us to evangelization. The people of God is holy thanks to this anointing, which makes it infallible in credendo. This means that it does not err in faith, even though it may not find words to explain that faith.” EG 119
Pope Francis is simply repeating the teaching of Vatican II:

The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole peoples’ supernatural discernment in matters of faith when “from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful” they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals. That discernment in matters of faith is aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth. It is exercised under the guidance of the sacred teaching authority, in faithful and respectful obedience to which the people of God accepts that which is not just the word of men but truly the word of God. (Lumen Gentium 12)

This infallibility by the body of believers is simply an expression of the Living Tradition. It is not as if the lay believer can exercise magisterial authority to decide matters of doctrine. For this discernment is exercised under the guidance of the Magisterium. And the whole body of believers certainly includes the Pope and the Bishops.

“All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients. The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized.” EG 120

From time to time, some of my fellow Catholics question my work by asking, querulously, by what authority do I write and teach theology. They suggest that I should not be publishing theology or teaching the Faith without some type of explicit authorization from the Church. They claim that I cannot be considered a theologian on the basis of having spent many years studying and writing theology, but that only persons who are authorized or who possess certain credential should be allowed to evangelize in this way. Pope Francis disagrees with their view. He supports a broad view of the apostolate of the laity, so that anyone “who has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus” can and should go out and preach or teach the Word of God.

“Once the Gospel has been inculturated in a people, in their process of transmitting their culture they also transmit the faith in ever new forms; hence the importance of understanding evangelization as inculturation. Each portion of the people of God, by translating the gift of God into its own life and in accordance with its own genius, bears witness to the faith it has received and enriches it with new and eloquent expressions.” EG 122

Yes, it’s looking more and more like Pope Francis is laying the groundwork for changes to the Mass, changes that would accommodate a wide variety of cultural expressions.

“Let us not stifle or presume to control this missionary power!” EG 124

He seems to see the Latin Mass as stifling the missionary power of culture as a medium for expressing Gospel truths. And he sees the far right among Catholics as seeking to control the expression of liturgical form in the Mass. So it does seem that Pope Francis might limit the Latin Mass, and rebuke those Catholics who refuse to attend any other form.

“This message has to be shared humbly as a testimony on the part of one who is always willing to learn, in the awareness that the message is so rich and so deep that it always exceeds our grasp.” EG 128

I see the opposite tendency in many traditionalist Catholics. They are not willing to learn, not from a theologian, or a priest, or a Bishop, not even from a Pope or Council. They have decided that the Catholic Faith is not full of profound mysteries, not a body of knowledge that is beyond the grasp of a lifetime of study. Instead, it is nothing other than the over-simplified version of the Catholic religion in their own minds. Whatever is beyond their own present understanding or misunderstanding is considered false. They are uncorrectable.

“We should not think, however, that the Gospel message must always be communicated by fixed formulations learned by heart or by specific words which express an absolutely invariable content. This communication takes place in so many different ways….” EG 129

Yet again, the Pope rebukes the assumption of conservative Catholics and their preference for one form only of the Mass, with fixed content and invariable wording. Pope Francis seems to favor a flexibility of liturgical form that

“They are not an inheritance, safely secured and entrusted to a small group for safekeeping; rather they are gifts of the Spirit integrated into the body of the Church, drawn to the centre which is Christ and then channelled into an evangelizing impulse.” EG 130

Conservative Catholics on the far right see themselves as a small group who are preserving the true faith, in contradiction to the Popes and Bishops who have gone astray by following the spirit of Vatican II.

“When we, for our part, aspire to diversity, we become self-enclosed, exclusive and divisive; similarly, whenever we attempt to create unity on the basis of our human calculations, we end up imposing a monolithic uniformity.” EG 131

The first part of the sentence rebukes liberal Catholics, whose proclamation of diversity excludes all who differ with their definition of inclusiveness and diversity. The second part of the sentence rebukes conservative Catholics, whose efforts at unity are based on “imposing a monolithic uniformity”.

“A theology – and not simply a pastoral theology – which is in dialogue with other sciences and human experiences is most important for our discernment on how best to bring the Gospel message to different cultural contexts and groups. The Church, in her commitment to evangelization, appreciates and encourages the charism of theologians and their scholarly efforts to advance dialogue with the world of cultures and sciences. I call on theologians to carry out this service as part of the Church’s saving mission. In doing so, however, they must always remember that the Church and theology exist to evangelize, and not be content with a desk-bound theology.” EG 133

Duly noted.

“A preacher may be able to hold the attention of his listeners for a whole hour, but in this case his words become more important than the celebration of faith.” EG 138

I have attended Mass, in the past, said by a missionary priest who is stationed in Haiti. He explained, as one of his sermons in the U.S. went on for about 20 minutes, that in Haiti his sermons are at least an hour. You see, the people usually walk to Mass on Sunday, and they might need to walk for an hour or two each way. So he cannot offer them a Mass that lasts less than an hour. Instead, the Mass is about 2 hours, with the sermon taking up at least an hour. This priest feels that, since the people spend so much time and effort to get to Mass, he must not short-change them by hurrying through the Mass, nor by offering only a brief sermon. So the Pope’s comments on the length of a sermon are conditioned by circumstances. He is not setting an absolute or inflexible rule.

“the Church is a mother, and that she preaches in the same way that a mother speaks to her child, knowing that the child trusts that what she is teaching is for his or her benefit” EG 139

The conservative Catholic subculture has decided that the Church is not their Mother or their Teacher; they do not trust in the teaching of Popes or Councils. They have exalted themselves above the Magisterium, to judge every word and deed of the Church.

“Just as all of us like to be spoken to in our mother tongue, so too in the faith we like to be spoken to in our ‘mother culture,’ our native language (cf. 2 Macc 7:21, 27), and our heart is better disposed to listen.” EG 139

Yet another indication that Pope Francis will make changes to the vernacular Mass, to allow inculturation and variety, and that he might restrict the Latin form of the Mass.

“A preaching which would be purely moralistic or doctrinaire, or one which turns into a lecture on biblical exegesis, detracts from this heart-to-heart communication which takes place in the homily and possesses a quasi-sacramental character….” EG 142

Well said.

“The challenge of an inculturated preaching consists in proclaiming a synthesis, not ideas or detached values. Where your synthesis is, there lies your heart. The difference between enlightening people with a synthesis and doing so with detached ideas is like the difference between boredom and heartfelt fervour. The preacher has the wonderful but difficult task of joining loving hearts, the hearts of the Lord and his people.” EG 143

This criticism applies to a certain tendency, on the right in Catholicism, to make the Faith consist entirely in static doctrine, presented as detached ideas, and a static inflexible form of the Mass.

“To speak from the heart means that our hearts must not just be on fire, but also enlightened by the fullness of revelation….” EG 144

I plan to continue this commentary on Evangelii Gaudium to a total of 8 parts. This post is part 4.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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