Being a fan of the The Burrowshire Podcast with Brandon Vogt and Fr. Blake Britton I had been looking forward to the following book since it was announced.
Specifically Reclaiming Vatican II: What It (Really) Said, What It Means, and How It Calls Us to Renew the Church. This book exceeded my expectations, which were already high.
As a convert, coming into the Church I knew nothing about Vatican II. What I learned when I started listening to Catholic radio regarded various controversies about those who rejected the council outright or were very critical of what the council taught. Mostly these were liturgical issues and the idea of the “Spirit of Vatican II.” In the past I had done a lot of parodies involving this aspect. Along with learning that the criticisms were mostly focused on what many experienced in their liturgical life in the Church and not what the text and vision of the Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum soncilium said. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s view of the Council and the “hermeneutic of continuity” also shaped my understanding. I only provide this background to state that I was not one that needed to be convinced that this was a valid council. Still, it was only within the last year or so that I started to really dig in to the conciliar documents.
There are several aspects of what Fr. Britton wrote that really appealed to me. Part of the framework that he uses to write this book is in regards to his life as a parish priest. That this book is not just some explanatory look at the history of the council, what it taught, and subsequent reactions. While it covers these subjects, he connects the council to the daily life of the Church. His personal stories provide excellent examples of this and events that shaped him in his life as a parish priest.
The idea of the “Spirit of Vatican II” as being against the actual text and teaching of the council is an idea easy to grasp. Still, it can also be more polemical than useful at times in discussing this. So I especially the use of the term paracouncil that he used and had discovered in one of Henri de Lubac’s essays on the council. He goes on to define three aspects regarding the rise of this paracouncil. The council as presented as such was like a decoy sent out to represent the real thing. Like most decoys when you examine them more closely you realize that they aren’t the real thing at all. The problem was on one hand more progressive elements liked what was represented in the decoy and more traditionalist elements saw it as a target to fire at. The decoy is my own imagery, not his.
This results in one viewpoint:
Thus, in a well-meaning but misguided attempt to relate positively to contemporary society, the genius of Catholicity is supplanted by nonspiritual ideals. This “reverse catechesis” has been a disaster. As a result, millions of Catholics are leaving the Church as she seemingly fades into irrelevance, just one sentimental institution among many in our culture.
On the other hand, many “conservative” or “traditional” Catholics are in all-out rebellion against Vatican II or, more appropriately, what is falsely peddled as Vatican II. Witnessing the deterioration of solemnity, piety, and catechesis in parishes across the world, they seek to circle the wagons by returning to the tried-and-true infrastructures of traditional Catholicism.
He goes through the four main documents of Vatican II pointing out the main points along with correcting common errors people have regarding them.
The value of this book in more than being able to make the proper distinctions and to see the council as it is. It is how he relates this to the everyday life of the faithful regarding worship of God, liturgy, and spreading the Gospel. I found very helpful the several etymologies of words used in worship and how he puts these concepts together. This was stunningly good. He tells stories regarding his own life along with those of others working towards authentic renewal in his parish. That this is not going to happen overnight and that patience and catechesis are key here.
You will have to buy the book to read his story regarding celebrating Mass in the cave of St. Jerome at Bethlehem along with other personal stories. How they deepened his life as a priest. I also really like his pastoral heart in not dismissing those with a more traditionalist view and listening to them. Just so much that delighted me.
I am probably not conveying the sense of what I found in his book since I think of it as both broad and focused. It deepened my own understanding of aspects of the documents and the liturgy itself. Looking through my copious highlights I found so much learn and to reflect on. Plus he had a list of recommended books on the subject along with a final chapter regarding “What Now?”
My friend Julie at Happy Catholic has a good review of this book that is more focused than mine. I certainly agree with her conclusion.
The Reason and Theology podcast did an interview with Fr. Britton recently that gives a good overview of the book. You can find links to buy the book there. Also a link to buy it with The Word on Fire Vatican II Collection, which has the four documents referenced along with commentary and related documents.
The Burrowshire Podcast just aired their final regularly scheduled show and there will only be occasional episodes in the future due to the hosts commitments. Still, it is very well worth listening to the existing episodes. In particular 011: What You Need to Know About Vatican II.