The Year of Faith and true unity of faith

The Year of Faith and true unity of faith

Cardinal Raymond Burke

Cardinal Raymond Burke is the Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, the Church's highest judicial authority after the Pope. Cardinal Burke argues that for any "new evangelisation" to be effective the Church must first wind back what Benedict XVI has called "the hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture" and re-establish Church unity.

The following are extracts from Cardinal Burke's address on 28 August at the convention of the Canon Law Society of Kenya.

The pontificate of Blessed Pope John Paul II may be rightly described as a tireless call to recognise the Church's challenge to be faithful to her divinely-given mission in a totally secularised society and to respond to this by means of a new evangelisation.

A new evangelisation is teaching the faith through preaching, catechesis and all forms of Catholic education, celebrating the faith in the Sacraments and in their extension through prayer and devotion, and living the faith through the practice of the virtues, all as if for the first time, that is, with the engagement and energy of the first disciples and of the first missionaries.

For the Church to remake her own fabric requires that she acknowledge a rupture in her life caused by the failure to see the organic nature of her life, received from Christ, faithfully transmitted down the centuries as the gift of the Holy Spirit for the evangelisation of the world.

Pope Benedict XVI reflected at length upon the rupture in his first Christmas address to the Roman Curia, in December 2005, which also marked the fortieth anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council. He described a struggle between two interpretations of the Council, the "hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture," and the "hermeneutic of reform."

The fruit of the "hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture" is described by Pope Benedict XVI in these words: "The nature of a Council as such is therefore basically misunderstood. In this way, it is considered as a sort of constituent that eliminates an old constitution and creates a new one. However, the Constituent Assembly needs a [mandate, but] the Fathers had no such mandate and no one had ever given them one nor could anyone have given them one because the essential constitution of the Church comes from the Lord and was given to us so that we might attain eternal life and, starting from this perspective, be able to illuminate life in time and time itself."

His analysis points to the need of a new evangelisation which centres upon the gift of Christ's life given to us, as individuals and as a community, in the Church, by which we are to live and thus to serve our neighbour.

The "hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture," which has tried to hijack the renewal mandated by the Second Vatican Council, has had a particularly devastating effect on the Church's discipline.

Harmful fruits

The years of a lack of knowledge of the Church's discipline and even of a presumption that such discipline was no longer fitting to the nature of the Church indeed reaped gravely harmful fruits in the Church.

For example, I think of the pervasive violation of the liturgical law of the Church; of the revolution in catechesis which often rendered the teaching of the faith vacuous and confused, if not erroneous; of the breakdown of the discipline of priestly formation and priestly life; of the abandonment of the essential elements of religious life and the devastating loss of fundamental direction in many congregations of religious sisters, brothers and priests; of the loss of the identity of charitable, educational and healthcare institutions bearing the name of Catholic; and the failure of respect for the nature of marriage and the time-proven process for judging claims of nullity of marriage in ecclesiastical tribunals.

It should be clear that the knowledge of and respect for canonical discipline is indispensable to the Church's response to the call to a new evangelisation.

We must confront the antinomian [rejection of moral absolutes] tendency of the culture, that is inimical to the organic unity which is inherent to the Body of Christ. A general ignorance of canon law, which sees it as some esoteric and surpassed aspect of Church life, must be overcome. At the same time, the false conflict between canon law and the pastoral nature of the Church, between truth and love, must be addressed.

Key to the form of the new evangelisation through canonical discipline is the study of the sources of canonical institutes in the Sacred Scriptures and Tradition. The discipline regarding the refusal of Holy Communion to persons who persist in grave and public sin, for example, must be seen in its consistent development from the time of Saint Paul.

Liturgical law must enjoy the primacy among canonical norms, for it safeguards the most sacred realities in the Church. It is interesting to note that in his first Encyclical Letter Redemptor Hominis, Blessed Pope John Paul II confronted the abuse of general confession and general absolution, of the essentially personal encounter with Christ in the Sacrament of Penance, reminding us both of the right of the penitent to such an encounter and the right of Christ Himself, and that, in his last Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia, he urgently addressed abuses of the Church's discipline regarding the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

As is always the case, knowledge and observance of canonical discipline frees us from the false impression that we must make the Sacred Liturgy interesting or stamp it with our personality, and frees us to be the instruments by which the presence of Christ, the Good Shepherd, among His people is rendered more visible, with the action of the Sacred Liturgy bearing His stamp alone.

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