In Keeping Open the Door of Faith: the Legacy of Vatican II by Donal Murray, the retired Bishop of Limerick concentrates on five themes: the Church as communion, a universal commitment to mission, the role of the laity within the Church, the dignity of the human person and the necessity of faith. The first and last themes are particularly relevant. "The central and fundamental idea" is that the Church is a communion or community of believers. It is, of course, a structured institution, but "the structures of the Church exist for the sake of the communion of all the baptised in their response to Christ, not vice versa". We ought to bear this in mind when we encounter criticisms of the institutional Church. The renewal that the Church requires must go beyond its structures to affect the communion of believers and their communion with God. Faith is even more fundamental than an ecclesiology of communion. It deepens our human identity in God's light and its effect must go beyond the privacy of individuals. Faith is a force for renewal not only within the Church, but also, as Murray insists, in the world at large. Its task is to "strengthen and sharpen the foundations which [the] democratic state cannot create for itself" and to "reawaken the moral forces which society needs in order to function".
- The Tablet, 27 October 2012
This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council; Bishop Donal Murray sets down in this short but insightful book his personal reflections on the council and their implications for us today. The council is often the focus of much ill-considered criticism, largely by those who found that their too settled way of living was disturbed by restatements of old truths that they had half forgotten or wished to ignore and which they found challenging.
For Donal Murray, the council had five important themes: communion, mission, the human person, and finally, faith. His essential purpose here is well stated on the very first page of the book: “One of the greatest challenges for the Church is to overcome the perception that it is primarily an institution, out of touch, insensitive, concerned only with defending its position. The Church is called to be something quite different – a communion with God and with one another. The purpose of the Church is to be ‘a sign and an instrument... of communion with God and of the unity of the entire human race.’ Living up to that purpose is a priority for all of us in a world where institutions are suspected, a world made by alienation rather than communion.”
Doubtless there will be many more (and far more complicated) books reflecting on this anniversary, but the ordinary reader could make no better start on re-encountering the revitalising ideas of Vatican II than in Bishop Murray’s most accessibly written book.
- Irish Catholic, 4 July 2012
Approaching the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council this short book of 114 pages will be a valuable read not only to any scholar of the Council with an interest in its legacy but to anyone with even a passing interest in the theology of the Church in a contemporary setting. For any student of pastoral theology this in a very valuable and accessible brief introduction to the subject, to be warmly welcomed for its many significant insights which will certainly engage and stimulate reflection.
Rather than engaging the legacy of the Second Vatican Council in terms of a review of the corpus of its sixteen documents, as he outlines in his introduction, Bishop Murray takes five themes of the Council and considers their implications for today's world. The first concept he explores is that of communion, he quotes the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium to set the scene, `the purpose of the Church is to be "a sign and instrument ... of communion with God and of the unity of the entire human race."' His second theme is that of mission where he explores the call of each Christian to play their part in proclaiming the Good News of hope and of sharing in God's life. The role of the lay faithful is the third theme and, while acknowledging the substantial developments in the Church's understanding of `the priesthood of all believers' he recognises that there is still an urgent need for a `fuller understanding and implication' of this area of theology. He places the understanding of the human person in the light of the Gospel as an important theme. Noting the importance in contemporary society of the credence given to individual rights, moreover he notes that `a rich understanding of the meaning of human dignity and of the destiny of human life is sadly lacking'. His fifth theme is that of faith. `There is no more fundamental question about us and about our world than the question of God and of how we relate to our Creator and Redeemer.' He links this fifth theme to his first by underscoring the role of faith as the key to communion with God. In entitling his book Keeping Open the Door of Faith Murray indicates that he is not offering an academic treatise on Vatican ll, but an understanding of the Council as a movement seeking to engage heart and mind, and with a very deliberate pastoral dimension.
The content of the five chapters forms a profound theological meditation on the church and the world, and yet the style of writing is never dull, and when technical terms are used they are explained with care and with the use of well-chosen illustrations. Whilst it is true that Murray has the Irish context in view for exploring these five themes, his rich and wide learning make the content very accessible for any reader. Indeed, one of the delights of this book is the wealth of quotations, references and insights from the world of literature, history and contemporary culture with which he brings vividly to life the significant theological points he makes. In a brief book it might seem churlish to point out omissions, but perhaps one might be noted: the whole world of interfaith dialogue is both an important contemporary dimension of the Church, and one that very much has its root in Vatican IL That aside, this book can be most heartily recommended for any reader seeking to understand the issues and concerns of the contemporary Church.
- Michael A Hayes, Mary Immaculate College, Limerick
The Pastoral Review Volume 8 Issue 5