August 14, 2023 Column Father De Celles

Assumption of Mary. Tuesday, August 15, is the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is a Holy Day of Obligation this year, which means it’s treated like a Sunday and all Catholics must attend Mass.

It recalls the day in history when, as Pope Pius XII infallibly declared in his 1950 Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus: “the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” This, of course, is a great day in the life of our Blessed Mother so we rightly celebrate it as such. But it is also a great day for the life of the Church and for each Christian. Because, as we pray, “where she has gone, we hope to follow.” Our Lord Jesus has given to His Mother the heavenly rewards of her faith and love on earth, rewards that we hope to share in when we die.

But it’s important to remember that this feast is not just about Mary going to heaven: it is about her having her body with her in heaven, just as Jesus has His Body in heaven. This reminds us that at the end of time all the souls who go to heaven after death (including by way of the cleansing of Purgatory) will be reunited with their glorified bodies in the Resurrection of the Dead.

This, in turn, reminds us that all of us are created to live bodily in heaven, that we are not souls imprisoned in bodies, nor are we souls using an outward shell (the body) that we can manipulate or abuse as we choose without affecting or damaging our souls. Our body is part of us, that part that communicates to others. And so what we do with our bodies expresses us and who we are. This is important in these days when so many people seem to think the body means nothing—you can abuse it with drugs or deviant sex, or you can even mutilate it with senseless surgeries. The Assumption reminds us, no! The human body—ours and everyone else’s—has a fundamental dignity and is destined for the glory of heaven.

Veritatis Splendor. After the Second Vatican Council, many theologians, priests and bishops tried to argue for changes in the Church’s fundamental moral teachings—and preached and taught publicly as if those changes had already taken place. As a result, many ordinary Catholics were misled into discarding fundamental moral truths, and so embraced sinful attitudes and behaviors, thinking that they were okay in God’s eyes. A perfect example of this was contraception, but also extra-marital sex, divorce and remarriage, and even abortion.

But nothing had changed. Catholic fundamental moral principles were the same as always. And so God gave us a great moral philosopher and theologian as Pope, St. John Paul II. And on August 6, 1993, working closely with many talented theologians, including perhaps the greatest theologian of the last 100 years, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Great Pope issued his monumental magisterial encyclical, Veritatis Splendor—the Splendor of Truth—in which he systematically discredited the prevalent errors and clarified that Catholic fundamental moral teaching had not only not changed, but was unchangeable because it was the beautiful Truth given to us by Truth Incarnate, Jesus.

Veritatis Splendor (VS) was thus a game-changing moment in moral theology. At the time, I was studying moral theology at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary-Emmitsburg (where I was a seminarian) and the John Paul II Institute for Studies in Marriage and Family in Washington. I was incredibly blessed to study under some of the truly great moral theologians and philosophers of the time, including several who were actively close collaborators with the Pope. To a man, all were exuberant that, at last, the stake had been driven through the heart of modern moral heresies, and the course of Catholic moral thinking had been set straight again.

                 But my favorite response was from the great Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete. One day shortly after VS was published, he arrived 2 hours late to our 3 hour class—but the whole class had waited because he was an amazing theologian and professor. He told us that he had just come from the USCCB semiannual meeting, where he had gotten into a heated argument with a Bishop who denied Monsignor’s statement that VS put an end to the “seamless garment” heresy (which played down the moral gravity of abortion). Finally, he said, slamming the desk, “I told him, ‘Damnit, I know what it says, I helped write the damn thing.’” (An exasperated and colorful way of saying he had worked with the Pope to draft VS.)

I bring this up because it is prime example of how so many have tried to reinterpret the teachings of Vatican II and subsequent papal teachings in such a way as to say the exact opposite of what they actually meant.

Recall that both Pope St. John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI, were actually at the Council as active participants and contributors to the documents, John Paul as an Archbishop and Ratzinger as the wunderkind theologian “peritus,” active in working on every aspect of the Council. They knew what was said and what was meant, and what was not meant: they “helped write the …thing.” So when these two great theologians came to the papal throne, their interpretation and application of the Council was authentic.

But for the last 10 years bishops and cardinals have tried to discredit or reinterpret John Paul II and Benedict XVI and their implementation of Vatican II. Yet none of the men were even at the Council, or even priests or theologians during the council.

A good example of this is Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez, who will become the new Prefect of Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith next month. He was only 3 years old at the close of the Council in 1965. And yet he recently stated: “Veritatis Splendor is a great document, powerfully solid. Obviously, it denotes a particular concern — to set certain limits. For this reason it is not the most adequate text to encourage the development of theology…. Today perhaps a [new] text will be needed …”

I’m sorry, but it seems he misunderstands VS. VS is the key to true and organic development of theology, in continuity with the actual Tradition of the Church, and the true meaning of Vatican II. It was not about “setting limits” but correcting errors and clarifying the way forward to better and more authentic “theologizing.” Thanks be to God, a byproduct of this was to end the confusion of so many Catholics. But now so many in the hierarchy and academy clearly wish to return to that confusion.

There is no need to reinterpret or clarify the formidable and authentic magisterium of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, only a need to follow on the path they set out to a true renewal of the Church, faithful to Christ and His teaching handed down over the ages in the Church. A need to reembrace the Splendor of the Truth.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles