Before we enter the Year of Faith

Archbishop Józef Michalik

We have begun a new year. The Church all over the world received an apostolic letter from Pope Benedict XVI ‘Porta Fidei’ on 11 October 2011 in which the Holy Father portends that on 11 October he will name the year 2012 the Year of Faith.

Mentioning the end of the Vatican Council

Since the beginning of the Church existence, both the hierarch and the faithful have been aware that Jesus’ will is to consider and continue any matters of faith in the community. ‘For where two or three gather in my name, I am among them’ (Mt 18,20). Lord Jesus sent the Holy Spirit onto the community of Apostles and Mary. The First Vatican Council in the history of the Church, which became a great breath of faith dynamism coming from the contact with Jesus, it was a meeting of the Apostles when they were supposed to decide whether the law of the Old Testament should be applied in Christ’s Church. They decided that although God’s law obliges all the time and everywhere, human rules are changing. The sign of the covenant is not circumcision any more or the prohibition of eating some food, but the sign of covenant is Christ. He is the One on whom we are supposed to concentrate. The sign of covenant is the Body and Blood of Lord Jesus which we accept. The sign of covenant is the death and Resurrection of God’s Son. The Second Vatican Council was held in the times of the worldly tensions, the Cold War and on the eve of tempestuous events of the year 1968. It turned out that the idea of the Vatican Council was lively in the Church. After Pius XII died, documentation was found which proved preparations to that event. The new times came, entailing concern, ideological changes which during the war and post-war period were creating mentality in an improper way. Jan XXIII was a holy man who trusted God more than feared people. He wanted to open the Church to the breath of the Holy Spirit and awaken the responsibility among all the baptised through prayers of bishops. The General Vatican Council is just a reference to the collegial responsibility - all bishops in the Church are supposed to gather in the name of Lord and take up a necessary reflection. Pope did not want the dogmatic Vatican Council which would take an attitude towards a particular mistake spreading in the Church. For, the mistake concerned the whole mentality of the present situation of the Church and it was necessary to encourage bishops with new eagerness to greater responsibility for teaching about the faith. The documents which are a testimony of these discussions include a moment which inspires to a new pastoral ministry and to a great openness to the activity of the Holy Spirit through people and to the faithfulness to Christ and Gospel.

Haste is a wrong advisor

Some people were trying to interpret the doctrine of the Vatican council according to some tendencies which they kept in themselves – they wanted too big and quick changes in the Church and supported their keeping to what had been, closing themselves to any development. Wilful steps always bring much harm. And it was so that time. In the opinion of a Christian group humanism was based on weakening the rigours of faith and going away from tradition. Then there was weakening of the cult of Mary, liberalizing of the rules of the Reconciliation Sacrament or the cult of Eucharist. God’s servant Paul VI often intervened in such situations and used to say that a reform is not based on the fact that somebody for the sake of subjective belief of his own ‘progressiveness’, will go ahead, but on the fact that somebody who is ahead, turns back to check whether the last person is catching up with him. The Church gets reformed either in the community or it does not get reformed at all. For many years, after the Vatican council, I witnessed the reaction of John Paul II to suggestions and questions addressed to him concerning the need for a new Vatican council. The Blessed Pope reacted very strongly in this respect, emphasizing that there was not any necessity for a new Vatican council but it was necessary to deepen this richness which is included in the Second Vatican council. We must enter the spirit of this Vatican council in a realistic way. I think that it is a continuous enlivening challenge for us and that this Vatican council is an expression of faith for today’s times, an interpretation of Gospel in the Church – which is very important, healthy and safe.

A language of the Holy Spirit

One of the most prominent historians of the Church and a co-founder of St. Giles’ community in Rome – Professor Andrea Riccardi thinks that the post- Vatican Council renewal of the liturgy in Poland is a positive example of introducing such changes. God’s servant cardinal Stefan Wyszyński could go ahead and be in the first row but he respected many-year-old tradition and people who sometimes uncritically saw only ‘good times’ in the past. Therefore, the renewal of liturgy and accepting the mother tongue was not a dramatic problem for the Church in Poland. Undoubtedly, the change of the Latin language into the Polish one was connected with some difficulties, also for us, young people, therefore we were not accustomed to celebrating the Holy Mass in Latin and we had to learn the new rite. Priest Cardinal once told that it was the most difficult for him to convince bishops of this change. The environment of the Catholic University of Lublin, ‘General Weekly’ magazine, God’s servant Fr. Franciszek Blachnicki helped to understand the need of the Vatican Council renewal. One of the most difficult issues was rejecting Latin Gregorian singing. Some experts of the ecclesiastical music stated that it was impossible to do. Then the God’s servant, during the meeting of the Polish Episcopal Conference, decided to give out music notes of the preface to bishops and asked one of priests, a musician, to try to sing it with bishops. After a while all the bishops joined singing; the Polish text was adjusted to Gregorian melody so well. Latin should not be neglected or overvalued. It is a great testimony of ecclesiastical culture. We should care for it and remember that the language of the Church is the language of the Holy Spirit, the language of love, the language of the faithfulness to God, the language of identifying with Christ. It is beyond any time, the message of Christ is beyond a language. But in order to understand it, we should read Gospel very carefully and enter into its spirit. Stefan Wyszyński understood this and, peacefully, he introduced liturgical changes of the Vatican Council. The Polish Church was the first to begin to introduce long-term pastoral programmes such as the Great Novena lasting for nine years. Then it was spreading onto the general ecclesiastical level.

The optics of faith

Another difficulty for us was a definition of the Church. We were accustomed to the hierarchical vision of the Church. I remember the entrance exam of theology at Academy of Catholic Theology whose topic was a new definition of the Church by the Second Vatican Council, given in the dogmatic constitution. During my studies I listened to lectures by the same professor who taught also Cardinal Wojtyła – Fr. Ignacy Różycki. He was a great and very precise theologian. We were discussing two sentences from the eighth chapter of the Dogmatic Constitution about the Church for the whole year in the seminary under his supervision; we were also discussing the presence of Mary in the mystery of Christ and the Church. At the end of the year we asked Priest Professor if the Fathers of the Vatican Council were aware of the value of every word, every sentence written in these documents. We received his reply that since the moment when Paul VI gave his signature at the end of this document, it has been binding and holy to us. The criteria of usefulness, effectiveness and theological novelty are not concerned. The novelty is deeper, in cognition, in contact with this expression of faith. If we do not approach these documents of the Vatican Council with faith that something important happened there, that it is not an ordinary document, but a message to be accepted through faith, we will not understand its sense. It is just a great light showing us a way of looking at this Vatican Council event. On 11 October 2012, the 50th anniversary of the opening the Vatican Council, the Year of Faith will begin. I think it may turn out to be a great blessing and direction for us, as Pope approaches the Vatican Council with these criteria of faith for the sake of deepening it. The Catechism of the Catholic Church was created as an answer to waiting of the faithful that the Pope would summarize and explain the teaching of the Vatican Council and doubts about it. It was a task which the Church was facing and which neither Blessed Jan XXIII nor God’s servant Paul VI had managed to complete. John Paul II decided to take up this task, leaving its realization to Cardinal Ratzinger, a prefect of the Congregation for Faith Teaching at that time. Positive lecture of particular faith truths was needed and we can find this lecture in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It shows that the Church did not go away from Christ’s teaching, or Apostles, or Tradition but it still wants to show it and develop in a new form.

The synod of bishops

The synod of bishops, taking place next year and devoted to new evangelization, will mainly concern new methods of teaching about faith. We must awaken the responsibility among all the faithful in order to make it possible for the Holy Spirit to act in the Church. We must light up the hearts of bishops, priests and laymen, show that the Holy Spirit has ‘not become older’, that the salutary power of grace is not to be only experienced but people lose something important when they do not accept Gospel, that the world stands at the curve of history and is exposed to a big danger if it goes away from the faithfulness to God and itself. Today I see a big crisis of the word, in which the essence is not considered but used in an irresponsible way: we do not respect the printed word because its abundance stifled the faithfulness to the truth. The main reason for this crisis is the fact that we started believing that a picture can replace the word. It is not possible. This Word became the Body and this Word entails the whole essence, deed, work of God and a man. In order to find a solution to these problems which are seen so clearly today, we must awaken the hunger for the word and respect to it among children. The reference point for our taste is what we have learnt at our homes. It is similar with the sense of beauty, peace, happiness – if a child does not experience it in his family home, it will be difficult for him to find it in his adult life. So, it is necessary to delight in the taste of the beauty of the word. Today parents are looking for presents for their children. The first present which I received from my mum was ‘Fairy Tales’ by Andersen. I was also often sent to a library in order to borrow a book which was later read in the evening. It educated and raised the need for a book, love to a book. If the need for the word, the picture is awakened in a proper and responsible way, if parents take care that suitable words reach to children, it will have its deep consequences in their adult life. Parents often strive for providing their children with good future, a flat, a car, they collect money for his needs but the most important thing is to work out a child’s sensitivity to the beauty and good. He will buy and settle everything by himself if he receives bases, if he has a prepared thinking apparatus, strong will, worked out character, the sense of beauty, longing for good and nobleness. Then his parents will enjoy their child’s love at their old age because the child will see to whom he is grateful for everything. If not, one day, there will not be any time or place for them in the life of their adult child, because they did not give their time and their interest to their child when the child needed them.


"Niedziela" 05/2012

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: