Bishop R. Nickless of Sioux City has written a letter to his diocese: Ecclesia Semper Reformanda.


In it he denounces the false method of interpreting the Second Vatican Council: 

On the one hand, there is an interpretation that I would call “a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture,” it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology. 

The hermeneutic of discontinuity risks ending in a split between the pre-conciliar Church and the post-conciliar Church. It asserts that the texts of the Council as such do not yet express the true spirit of the Council. 

It is crucial that we all grasp that the hermeneutic or interpretation of discontinuity or rupture, which many think is the settled and even official position, is not the true meaning of the Council. This interpretation sees the pre-conciliar and post-conciliar Church almost as two different churches. It sees the Second Vatican Council as a radical break with the past. There can be no split, however, between the Church and her faith before and after the Council. We must stop speaking of the “Pre-Vatican II” and “Post-Vatican II” Church, and stop seeing various characteristics of the Church as “pre” and “post” Vatican II. Instead, we must evaluate them according to their intrinsic value and pastoral effectiveness in this day and age. 

Nickless calls for the return to traditional practices: 

We must renew our reverence, love, adoration and devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament, within and outside of Mass. A renewal of Eucharistic Spirituality necessarily entails an ongoing implementation of the Second Vatican Council’s reform of the liturgy as authoritatively taught by the Church’s Magisterium, the promotion of Eucharistic Adoration outside of Mass, regular reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of the Eucharist and our Mother. 

He goes on to talk about defending the family, encouraging vocations etc.


All this is well and good, but the fact is that many of the bishops who were at the Vatican Council as a body presided over and indeed sometimes mandated the destruction of the customs and attitudes that Nickless wants to restore. Were those bishops wrong and Nickless right? Perhaps – I think so, but how is the laity to judge that one crop of bishops largely erred and the current crop is getting it right?


When I was an undergraduate at Providence College, I had a course in the Liturgy taught by a peritus, a Dominican priest, who had helped write the constitution on the liturgy. He fully accepted what Nickless called the hermeneutic of discontinuity. The liturgy of the post-Vatican II Church was supposed to be something in all externals completely different from the pre-Vatican II Church. But it is hard to distinguish mere externals from the essence, just as it is hard to distinguish the body from the soul.


In any case, it is always harder to build up good habits and customs than to destroy them. I am happy that some (not all) of the clergy have given up a mean-spirited persecution of the members of the laity who are attached to traditions of the Church, but it is going to be hard, probably impossible to restore practices that have disappeared, like widespread Eucharistic adoration and frequent confession.


Nickless denounces the “false spirit” of the Council: 

The so-called “spirit” of the Council has no authoritative interpretation. It is a ghost or demon that must be exorcised if we are to proceed with the Lord’s work. 

But this genie is out of the bottle and it will take more than a letter from a bishop to put it back in.

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