We seem to always use large, foreign rooted words from Latin or Greek to make even the most basic matter complex and highly intellectual. When I hear the term hermeneutics, I think of the campy Batman television series that was popular in the 1960’s. The Boy Wonder, aka Robin would often come up with such exclamatory phrases such as “Holy hooligans Batman,” or “Holy High-Jinx,” or some other use of alliteration. Well I can just imagine the Boy Wonder using the term, “Holy Hermeneutics!” when describing the recent flurry of the revisiting of Vatican II by Benedict XVI.

Strictly speaking hermeneutics is a term derived from ‘Ερμηνεύς, the Greek word for interpreter. The Greek word has the basic meaning of one who makes the meaning clear. Well, clarity is precisely what Benedict XVI hopes will be achieved as the Church reexamines the teachings and documents of the Second Vatican Council. Four decades have elapsed since the last ecumenical council of the Catholic Church, and four decades have passed without a reevaluation of the council’s core purpose and teachings. Now that we have passed all of the theological and liturgical “bumps” in the road, it is a great thing to reexamine the path we have been travelling.

One of the major concerns by the so called, “Traditionalists” in the Catholic Church is the introduction of the Novus Ordo of Paul VI as a liturgical discontinuity, which did not quite appreciate the organic development and historical significance of the Tridentine Liturgy. Anti-Novus Ordo followers keenly indicated that the new liturgy completely dissuaded the rituals and traditions of the former rite with a new form that was not really a representation of the axiom of “lex orandi, lex credendi.”

In the same manner, the advocates of the Novus Ordo of Paul VI were quick to realize that the document Gaudium et Spes, (The Constitution on the Church in the Modern World) seemed to indicate that the Catholic Church needed a dramatic change in its ritual form and function in order to be relevant to a changing modern society. As a result the comfortable and familiar Mass of Pius V, held so sacred since the Council of Trent was seen as the object of reform and not the object of organic growth and development. Out went Trent and in came Vatican II. Well now that all of the options and changes have been realized since 1970, perhaps the true meaning of the word, hermeneutics can be honestly reconsidered.

Hermeneutics is the study of the “true” or “clear” interpretation of a particular religious text and or event. With Vatican II out of the distance of the rear view mirror, perhaps now we can examine its intent and expectations with a more objective view.

My suggestion is that we look at the hermeneutics of Vatican II, not as an exercise that called for liturgical discontinuity, but rather a council that sought our hermeneutical reform. That is to say, the council fathers understood that there were things within the life and the liturgy of the Church that needed to be properly repaired, not entirely dissuaded. If we look at the council from the perspective of hermeneutical reform, the recent permission to permit the celebration of the Tridentine Rite makes sense. We’re trying to fix, not replace the issues. There are a lot of similar examples. For example, when my car needs new tires, I don’t replace the car. I replace the tires.

Vatican II perhaps overzealously replaced the liturgical automobile, without considering that the car might have just needed a new set of all weather radials. The liturgical automobile of Trent was still capable of transportation, however it was not as sleek, and fast, and new as the proposed convertible coupe of Paul VI. As human beings we do this with just about every material object we possess. Madison Avenue is always in pursuit of whiter teeth, fresher breath, brighter whites and longer lasting flavor in our chewing gum. Well 20th century Catholics quite honestly believed the marketing tactics of the Ecclesiastical Spin Doctors and purchased the new model. The old model was still perfectly functional, but not as desirable as the new model.

There might be an over simplification of this entire matter with these examples, but I don’t think we should not consider Vatican II as such a possibility.

I’m constantly hearing myself, and others around me talk about the better “old” things of their childhood. Old Coke was better than New Coke, penny candy was better than the fifty cents candy, sugar tasted better than Splenda and so on. Well, fifty percent of that discussion is correct. Some of the old things in our nostalgic appreciation of the past, we better. However there is another fifty percent that clearly indicates that the innovations of the late 20th and early 21st century are better as well.

The Tridentine Mass is no better or no worst than the Novus Ordo of Paul VI. Both forms are liturgical expressions of the Catholic Church’s appreciation of , lex orandi, lex credendi. Both forms have good points as well as bad points. However the main point is that we begin to hermeneutically see more clearly that the Fathers of Vatican II wanted to both fix and replace aspects of our Catholic faith that had nothing to do with doctrinal consistency, but the manner through which we express our doctrinal beliefs.

We should really not be polarized with the reintroduction of the pre-Vatican II liturgy. It is a perfect opportunity not only to appreciate the good points of the past, but also the good points of the present. Vatican II while not perfect was at least a true attempt to reform problems and not just disguard them. We need to look at both sides of the event with hermeneutical clarity and not hermeneutical nostalgia.

Holy hermeneutics Batman! We just bought this new Batmobile!

Hugh McNichol is a Catholic author and journalist that writes on Catholic topics and issues. Hugh studied both philosophy and theology at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia. He writes daily at: http://verbumcarofactumest.blogspot.com & http://catholicsacredarts.com & http://pewsitter.com He writes about Irish Catholic experiences  at http://graysferrygrapevine.blogspot.com  Comments are always welcome @ hugh.mcnichol@trinettc.com

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