Friday, April 15, 2005

on collegiality

The reading today from the Second Vatican Council's Lumen Gentium for the eighth day of the novendiales (see the post immediately before this) underscores the pivotal role of bishops and of collegiality in the Church. This seems to be a buzzword these days as the cardinals prepare to enter the conclave next week. A recent editorial from the Tablet features this particular issue. "Never Peter without the eleven, and never the eleven without Peter" encapsulates the collegial and collaborative relationship that should exist between pope and bishops.

For centuries before Vatican II, the Church was very good in emphasizing the role of the pope and the role of priests, with little emphasis on bishops. The fathers of the Second Vatican Council sought to remedy this imbalance by featuring the important role of bishops and of collegiality. Rather than being seen as mere "branch managers" for Rome, the bishops--according to the fathers of Vatican II--are to be regarded as "legitimate successors of the apostles....[and] all of them jointly are responsible for the Church" (from the Second Vatican Council's Christus Dominus, no. 6). It's not just the pope or the Curia who are responsible for the Church, but all of the bishops inasmuch as they remain in union with the pope. With a deficient collaborative model, tensions could arise.

Tensions in what way? And how does this concept of collegiality among bishops affect the random lay Catholic sitting in the pew? It affects her lot. It can affect her in the most important aspect of her life: in worship. For instance, if your local Church, meaning your diocese, has a practice or custom where members of the laity may serve as extraordinary ministers of the cup or of the Eucharist (which is quite common actually), and then a letter comes out from Rome saying that only deacons and priests may serve Communion during Mass, you get tension right there. Or, if in one's culture, worship of God is intimately connected with physical gestures and movements such as dance, and then say someone from the Curia comes out with a document saying that dance at Mass is not permitted, you get tension.

However, the tension may also be generated the other way wherein the practices in a particular community threaten the Church's universality. There are other examples where this tension between the Church universal (headed by the pope) and the Church particular (headed by a bishop) may manifest itself. In either case, a deficiency in collegiality exists.

There are many tensions and issues not only within the Church but also outside that threaten her unity and her legitimate diversity. No doubt you have heard of some of them in the news or in blogosphere. The burden and the weight of these issues and tensions cannot be carried by just one man without crippling him. This is where a closer mindfulness on the Church's teaching on collegiality among the bishops--united with the successor of Peter--is called for as the Church looks forward to a new pontificate.

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