Venerable Brethren, beloved sons! The beauty and harmony of the Byzantine-Slav Rite that has just been celebrated, so touching in its appeal to the salient points of revealed doctrine and of religious devotion, would be enough to excuse Us from giving the usual homily; but Our heart insists on pouring forth an expression of the fatherly pleasure and satisfaction We feel, in repayment both for the reflections of heavenly visions that have made such a deep impression on Our soul and for the excitement stirred up in all of us by this peaceful, fraternal gathering of the representatives of all the rites of the Catholic Church around the Bishop of Rome.
The lowly successor of Peter who is speaking to you followed the various parts of the liturgical celebration and took part in it with his whole being: mind, heart, eyes, words. From the depths of distant memories – you can just imagine it – the resounding tone of the prayers and the swinging, smoking censers brought back to him the faces of the dear people of Bulgaria, of Constantinople, and of Greece. He spent his first years as a bishop in their midst and what a pleasure and a joy it was for him to link the slow, melodious, and penetrating prayer of the Gospodi pomilui with the Kyrie eleison. We find it hard to describe to you the tender feelings that always seize Us when Our mind’s eye goes back nostalgically to days and peoples and places that are far away but dear to Us and blessed.
Brevis sermo, then. Just a few words, venerable brethren, for We will save until tomorrow the longer and fuller expression of Our thoughts, Our aims, and Our hopes.
Beginning Of The Council
Today’s ceremony marks the beginning of the more solid and substantial preparatory phase of the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican. It was only natural for it to take its beginning from the altar of the Lord and from the appeals raised up by Christian piety and devotion, for they will guarantee a proper spirit and eventual success to the great undertaking to which We have in a sense vowed Ourself.
Beloved sons! What difference does it make whether or not We see it unfold and reach a conclusion with Our own eyes? Our soul is trusting and serene, and is fully satisfied with having replied to this happy inspiration simply and directly and with keeping Ourself ready to do all and dare all to make it a success.
An Expression Of Universality
On another occasion earlier this year, the Eastern liturgies in all their richness and beauty and colorful splendor were called upon to open a sacred and solemn public display of prayer and study under the arches of the Vatican basilica. The various ceremonies that take place here acquire new dignity and a crown of exultation and glory from the presence of representatives of the priesthood and the laity from all over the world. This morning, have we not tasted the meaning of this gradual unveiling of lights, of hymns, of secret formulas and words and found it to be a kind of expression of the majesty and the face and figure of the Church of Christ, the universal mother, pitching her tents over the whole world, through the long and dangerous centuries that have passed since the beginning?
A Restoration Of Splendor
Everything that the new Ecumenical Council is to do is really aimed at restoring to full splendor the simple and pure lines that the face of the Church of Jesus had at its birth, and at presenting it as its divine founder made it: sine macula et sine ruga. Its journey through the centuries is still a long way from the point where it will be transported into an eternity of triumph. So the highest and noblest aim of the Ecumenical Council (whose preparation is just now beginning and for whose success the whole world is praying) is to pause a little in a loving study of the Church and try to rediscover the lines of her more fervent youth, and to reconstruct them in a way that will reveal their power over modern minds that are tempted and deceived by the false theories of the prince of this world, the open or hidden adversary of the Son of God, Redeemer and Savior. The ceremony at which We have just assisted with so much joy shows Us the main outline of this venerable Mother of ours, whom we honor each day with the homage of faith in the Apostles’ Creed, which salutes her as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.
Bringing various rites with different languages and different histories together here in adoration of the Most Holy Trinity is a prime and solemn public display of our respect for the unity of this divine institution, the Church. There is no beauty to compare with the diversity in rites, language, imagery, and symbols, in which the liturgy is rich, for it expresses in different ways the intimate union of the faithful who make up the Mystical Body of Christ. It reasserts the deepest and most solid reason for the various races of men to be united, for they are all called on to pay honor to Christ, and through Him, to the Most Blessed Trinity.
The Will Of The Lord
The symbol and the guarantee of this unity is the pontiff, who takes the place of Peter and stands at the peak of the sacred order: hierarchy, doctrine, worship, sacraments. Yes, unus Dominus, una fides, unum baptisma! The thing that recurs most often in the talks of Jesus is His exaltation of the sacramentum unitatis, which draws together in one single inspiration all peoples and all tongues with all their natural historical variations. It is sealed by the last prayer, the last sigh uttered by Jesus to His heavenly Father, at the tragic hour of His sacrifice: “Pater sancte, serva eos in nomine tuo, quos dedisti mihi, ut sint unum sicut et nos.” Hence the Latin liturgy that is used and recognized by a great part of the world, by the group of the faithful that is numerically largest, is very deserving of esteem among the various forms of worship. But the unity appears in all its perfection and wonder and splendor when all the Eastern liturgies, in a sense, clear the path for it and join it in rousing chorus at the same altar.
For each of us who has taken part in it, today’s ceremony will always remain a call to holiness. If our correspondence to the grace of Christ, which is the font of all holiness, falls short of the affirmation of the tu solus Dominus, tu solus sanctus, tu solus altissimus We have addressed to Him, then we run the risk of reducing these ceremonies to an empty form devoid of spiritual meaning and on a level with the various forms or distractions to be found in that human activity which is directed to material things and forgets about the eternal.
The Basis Of All Effort
This is the reason behind a declaration that amounts to a commandment and a sacred duty: put the holiness of the clergy and the laity right at the very basis of every effort to develop the energies of the Church and make sure that everyone is careful to have a proper regard for it, in keeping with the teaching of the divine Master and the example of the saints. Beloved sons! We do not hesitate to say that all of Our cares and efforts to make the Council a great success might well be in vain if this collective effort at sanctification were not whole-hearted and universal. Nothing can make as much of a contribution to it as the quest for and the achievement of holiness. The prayers and virtues of individuals, and their interior spirit become an instrument of immense good.
Holy Men In Church History
Four great figures in history, who were outstanding teachers in the Church and who point up the differences in rites, stand here before us to represent the East and the West in the act of holding up the apostolic Chair, as if they were proclaiming to the whole world and to all ages what it is that makes the Church – let us rather call it the Holy Church – truly great: that is, the holiness of its doctors, its bishops, and its pontiffs. Just look at the glorious names of these men, giants in their holiness and in their service to the magisterium of the Church: Athanasius and John Chrysostom, Ambrose and Augustine. Their statues are ringed by a magnificent crown formed by the images of other pontiffs and the doctors from all times and from many different backgrounds whose sacred relics are treasured here or in the other basilicas and churches of Rome. It gives Us particular pleasure to express Our devotion by recalling the name of Saint Josaphat, Bishop and Martyr, the one to whom today’s Eastern liturgy (itself associated with the name of Chrysostom) was dedicated and whose glorification was greeted with a wave of devotion and of religious exultation during the pontificate of Pius IX, almost at the very opening of the First Vatican Council.
Holiness And The Council
So, if the Second Vatican is to be a success, effective cooperation is necessary, and the only form it can take consists in efforts to grow in holiness by each and every bishop and priest and the Christian people as well. Let each and every one of us – Pope, Fathers of the Council, fellow workers – resolve that all through this year, starting today in a systematic manner, we will remain on duty, which will mean first of all sanctification and then study and hard work. It is up to the faithful to choose the particular way in which they can cooperate through prayer – constant prayer – and through the shining example of their Christian lives in the framework of the specific activities carried on by each of them.
This is a distinctive mark of the last testament that the Lord entrusted to Peter and to his successors. It is like a deep root, that has spread through the bowels of the earth, until it now touches the most distant borders, far beyond Palestine where the command “Euntes” was proclaimed, and beyond Rome and Greece, which, furnished Providence with the human elements that made it possible for the Gospel message to be preached swiftly everywhere, even though it did mean the sacrifice of countless martyrs. Through God’s grace, this catholicity has remained intact through the course of the centuries, just as Jesus had predicted and promised, despite variations in liturgy and different pastoral applications, which actually add to its beauty. The heritage of Christ must not be understood and applied in terms of the needs or demands of any one country or another, or on the basis of the shifting events of its history, but rather with complete fidelity to the promises of Jesus, who has assured us that His assistance will go on till the end of time. Catholicity is not weakened but rather is strengthened and enriched as the Church spreads and multiplies its activity. This perfect compatibility of catholicity with the other notes is basic and it is in accord with sound doctrine: “quod unitatis simul, sanctitatis et apostolicae successionis praerogativa debeat effulgere.” (Pius IX to the bishops of England, 16 September 1864).
The apostolicity of the Church is the living flame through which Christ, the king of all peoples and all ages, reassumes and recapitulates all things in Himself, as Saint Paul says so clearly in the words that our Pius X adopted as his own: instaurare omnia in Christo! When we say that Jesus extends His dominion over all the structures that make up society, we recall the biblical vision of the Filii tui de latere surgent. From the open side of the divine Savior comes forth the power of virtue. Saint Paul could recognize that he was minimus apostolorum, and yet still an apostle and, for that reason, sure of his calling and of the gifts of grace that would make his ministry fruitful. The Catholic Church is not an archeological museum. It is the ancient village fountain that gives water to the generations of today, as it gave it to those of days gone by. Dear young people, today you paid homage to the notes of the Church – one, holy, catholic, and apostolic – in the thought-provoking beauty of the chant and ceremonies; you are the heirs of a great tradition, and as you grow older, continue to try to do it honor.
Venerable brother Archbishop, who celebrated today’s Mass, please be kind enough to permit Us to repeat the prayer with which you lifted up our souls in one last heavenly plea: “Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, true God of ours, through the intercession of Thy holy and immaculate Mother, of the glorious leaders of the Apostles, Peter and Paul, of our father Saint John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, of Saints Joachim and Anne, of Saint Josaphat, Archbishop and Martyr, and of all the saints, have mercy on us, and save us through Thy goodness and out of Thy love for men.” We would like to add to this the other prayer you uttered before the Ikon of the Savior: “O Lord, Thou who dost bless those who bless Thee, and sanctify those who trust in Thee, save Thy people and bless Thy inheritance. Guard Thy whole Church, sanctify those who love the beauty of Thy house, grant them glory as their reward through Thy divine power and do not abandon us who hope in Thee. Give peace to the world, which is Thine, to Thy churches, to priests, to our rulers, and to all Thy people, so that every good grace and every perfect gift may come down from on high and descend from Thee, Father of lights; and to Thee we render glory, thanks, and adoration, to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever world without end.”