LACEGATE WAS ABOUT MORE than the lace you’ve heard me insist. Looking back to my more extensive blog post as well as the more restrained and focused submission to the Catholic Herald, some might feel that I ended both with a questioning finger pointed solely at the bishops. While the shepherds of the Church are above all its bishops, their pastoral burden is shared with the lower clergy—we priests, that is—and we exercise it more at the muddy end of the sheepfold. That does not excuse priests from asking of themselves, as we contemplate the haemorrhaging of the flock, what we were doing the while. Among priests as among bishops there will be some, even many, who can justifiably claim that they have tried their best. Thanks be to God.
Still, things remain grim. But it is back to bishops that I would turn our attention. Bishops were the avowed “winners” of Vatican II. Collegiality was the order of the day; synods of bishops were to meet regularly to assist the pope in the governance of the Church; bishops’ conferences were to be erected to support bishops in their ministry and give it a national weightiness, to offer individual bishops a sort of pastoral economy of scale.
Did bishops actually “win?” The synod of bishops convenes, on average, about as often as the Olympic Games are held. It is a formalised event with speeches made and a papal summary document issued in its wake. That is not quite what the advocates of this instrument had hoped for. When the synod first met in 1967 it was exposed to a trial run of the Consilium’s swanky new Missa normativa. The bishops’ reaction was underwhelming. Cardinal Heenan maintained that if this was the reformed Mass the Church was to be given, the only ones going to it would be women and children. Yet three years later it is a tweaked Missa normativa that we got as the new Mass. So much for the epscopacy’s collegial reservations. (more…)