Friday, August 23, 2013

Father Jeremy's Opening Reflection for the Faculty of Mount Angel Seminary

On Monday, August 19th, the faculty of Mount Angel Seminary met for their first faculty meeting for the 2013-2014 school year.  The meeting included a reflection on communion ecclesiology by Father Jeremy Driscoll, OSB, a monk of Mount Angel Abbey and a faculty member of Mount Angel Seminary.

Father Jeremy Driscoll, OSB, in his office at Mount Angel Seminary.

Below are the notes from Father Jeremy's reflection, which he has agreed to share with the readers of our journalism blog.

1)  The reflection began with a reading John 17:20-26; the words "as" and "so" may be considered among the most important words in the Bible.

Examples of "as" and "so": "As the living Father sent me and as I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me." (John 6:57)  "For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will." (John 5:21)  "As the Father sent me into the world, so do I send you." (John 20:21)  And so forth.  There are lots of these.  When we take them seriously, we see that a tremendous transfer is being revealed and accomplished: nothing less than the divine relationship between Father and Son completely transferred to us.  The "as and so" construction, so crucial to Jesus' own revelation, is used in John 17:20-26.

John 17:21: ". . . that they may be one as you, Father, in me and I in you . . . that they may be in us so that the world may believe . . ."   Again in v. 22: "I have given them the glory you gave me so that they may be one as we are one."  v. 23: ". . . that the world may know that you love them as you love me." Finishing magnificently with v. 26: "that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I may be in them."

2) Various texts of the New Testament used, among other words, the word communion to describe what Jesus is talking about in this text and in others.  The tradition quickly took up this usage.  Also the new Testament and the tradition use the word Church (ecclesia) for the human community gathered into unity from the unity of the Holy Trinity.  This is the ultimate sense of the term we use in so important a way around here: communion . . . ecclesiology.

This is nicely said in the opening paragraph of Vatican II's Lumen Gentium: "The Church, in Christ, is in the nature of sacrament - a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among all people." (LG 1.)

3) Vatican II was the result of a renewal in theological studies underway throughout the first half of the 20th century.  Even more so, the Council has also been the impetus for a renewal in theological studies in the decades following it.  The Council has shaped our own graduate curriculum in a major way, especially in the last twenty years.

Twenty years after the close of the Council, in 1985, a Synod was called by Pope John Paul II to evaluate the reception of the Council in the first twenty years since its close.  In the final report that records the results of that Synod, we can read the following: "The liturgical renewal is the most visible fruit of the whole conciliar effort . . ."  And then shortly after the report specified that "The ecclesiology of communion is the central and fundamental idea of the Council's documents." (1)

Three years later, marking the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Council, John Paul II wrote the Apostolic Letter Vicesimus quintus annus.  In one paragraph he lists what he sees as the fruits of the liturgical reform for which we must be grateful, saying, "for the fact that the table of the word of God is now abundantly furnished for all; for the immense effort undertaken throughout the world to provide the Christian people translations of the Bible, the Missal, and other liturgical books; for the increased participation of the faithful by prayer and song, gesture and silence, in the Eucharist and the other sacraments; for the ministries exercised by lay people and the responsibilities that they have assumed in virtue of the common priesthood into which they have been initiated by Baptism and Confirmation; for the radiant vitality of so many Christian communities, a vitality drawn from the wellspring of the Liturgy." (2)  These were the years in which our faculty began to develop a curriculum with communion ecclesiology as a unifying thread.

In 1994, as part of the preparation for the Grand Jubilee of 2000, in Tertio millennio adveniente, the same Pope proposed a number of questions for an examination of conscience that he urged the Church to undertake.  One of these was the following: "In the universal Church, and in the particular Churches, is the ecclesiology of communion described in Lumen Gentium being strengthened?" (3)

One could carry on like this in some detail.  But this should be sufficient to remind ourselves and to situate ourselves in what we have been up to in these last twenty years as a theological faculty and, indeed, in the seminary in all the pillars of its program, all of them likewise fruits of the Council.  As a faculty we have responded to this conciliar teaching and papal urging in the shape of our curriculum and in the style and tone of our work with each other.  We have learned from others and ourselves developed an approach to theology rooted in the eucharistic experience of the Church, for it is in the actual celebration of the Eucharist that this communion with God and with one another in God reaches its highest pitch.  Thus, the expression, "The Eucharist makes the Church."  This is why communion ecclesiology can also be named eucharistic ecclesiology.

A theological curriculum based on communion ecclesiology begins by showing how all the master themes of the Catholic theological tradition have their roots in the eucharistic celebration.  They unfold from there into specific disciplines, all under the force of faith seeking understanding.  Our students are taught methodically to connect the various elements of the eucharistic rite to their many different courses in theology, and in this way to find the unity of the whole and the sense and weight of the individual parts.

As for the style and tone of our work with each other, this ecclesiology is expressed in a vision of Trinitarian and personal communion that wants to inform and pervade our being together in a common work for the sake of the Church - for the sake of building up the Church as "a sign and instrument . . . of communion with God and of unity among all people."  (LG 1, as earlier cited.)  It must show itself here - it does show itself here - in the day to day of our life and work together, in the image of the Church that we form, that we form in our work rhythmically flowing toward and flowing from our celebration of the Eucharist.

5) I am reminded of St. Augustine's description of heaven in The City of God.  He says heaven will be the eternal enjoyment of God and of one another in God.  Let us hope that during this school year, this future toward which we are destined and for which we long, will wash toward us already from the future into our present: enjoyment of God and of one another in God. (4)

* * *

1. Synod 1985, Final Report, Final Report of the Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (7 December 1985), II, B, b, 1.

2. VCA 12.

3. TMA, 36.

4. City of God 19, 17.  CCSL 48, 684-685.

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