I went ahead and took my own advice–to think about how to celebrate the 1700th anniversary of the Creed. Your Holiness, I humbly suggest…
An ecumenical council, held on the shores of Lake Iznik, Turkey. World Youth Day and the World Meeting of Families would occur simultaneously, in the same place.
The Council would confess the Creed and solemnly receive the canon of Scripture (all the books listed at the Council of Trent).
They would together declare that the Catechism of the Catholic Church offers a sure norm for teaching.
The Fathers would agree on how to compute the date of Easter, would commit to the discipline of choosing priests from among celibate men, and would raise a cheer to Pope St. John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae.
Then everyone would have a chance to go to confession. To conclude the Council, all the Fathers will concelebrate Mass, with commuicatio in sacris for all. Communicatio in sacris for all Christians would be the goal of Nicaea III.
Now, before you say, “Father, that’s not ecumenism, that’s you-come-in-ism!” let me make a few provisos.
First, to send invitations to the Council, the Pope would gather as many patriarchs as possible–Patriarch Bartholomew and all other willing parties–to issue the invitation. I don’t think anyone needs to stand on particular prerogatives to convoke and confirm ecumenical councils. At this point in Christian history, the centenary of Nicaea itself can convoke the world’s bishops. All will come as pilgrims to the place where the 318 met at Emperor Constantine’s invitation, seventeen centuries–and countless saints and martyrs–ago.
Second, the invitation would include the following: Holy Father Francis proposes that the Catechism of the Catholic Church offers the best existing instrument for fostering union. But the Catechism could conceivably be improved. We will have a process by which any invitee could submit proposed amendments to the Catechism.
This process would need a governing body. The Catechism already is the fruit of world-wide consultation, so the benefit of the doubt will go to the document as is. Most of the work processing proposed amendments would have to get done before the Council. (We need all nine years!) But no one would foreclose the possibility that proposed amendments could be put to vote at the Council itself. (All that said, we are not talking about any fundamental changes.)
Third, the invitation would extend to every bishop that any of the signatory Patriarchs recognize as legitimate, including non-Catholic bishops. Also, we would have a process by which Anglican and Lutheran bishops could get regularized (and ordained according to apostolic succession, if need be), so as to be seated at the Council. Other non-Catholic presiding ministers could receive invitations to submit proposed amendments to the Catechism. (All of this presumes an acknowledgement that the Catechism teaches the truth as is.)
Fourth, the Mass itself, to conclude the Council… I think we can say that any honest Protestant, who visits the local Catholic parish and hears the Novus Ordo liturgy, would have to acknowledge that the 16th-century criticisms of the Catholic ceremonies have been addressed.
On the other (Orthodox) side: The funeral Mass of John Paul II offers us a model for how to incorporate Eastern liturgical elements into a Roman-rite Mass on such an occasion.
All this said, a Mass can only have one celebrant. At Nicaea III, that will be the pope.
Now, “wherever two or three are gathered in My name, there am I, in the midst of them,” saith the Lord. No Christian can doubt this. By the same token, no Bible reader can dispute that the Lord wills that we come together to take and eat, to take a drink, His Body and Blood. We must seek communicatio in sacris; Christians must unite at Mass. Nicaea III will offer the way.
The invitation to Nicaea III will not suit anyone who thinks we can have a Church without validly ordained priests, or who thinks that God calls women to the priesthood. The invitation will not suit anyone who thinks Christ instituted only two sacraments, or who considers Christianity just one religion among many “spiritual paths,” or who thinks he or she can be his/her own shepherd and pope.
The invitation will not suit anyone who can’t recognize that Christ established a visible institution for the sake of mankind’s salvation. Or who doesn’t see that this institution continues through the laying on of hands, from one successor of the apostles to the next. And the invitation will not suit anyone obtuse enough to imagine that someone other than the pope can unite the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
Most of the Christians of the world are Latin-rite Catholics. No one sins against ecumenism by acknowledging this fact. Also, Protestants and Orthodox can recognize most of what’s in the Catechism as their own teaching, too. Nothing un-ecumenical about facing that fact, either.
Therefore, the invitation to Nicaea III will have two unambiguous subtexts: 1) The age of Protestantism has run its course. Let’s come together and agree on what we read in the Catechism, so we can move forward together. 2) The age of autocephalous national Churches has run its course. Let’s come together and agree on what’s in the catechism, and move forward together.
Why the commitment to celibate clergy? The New Evangelization involves the apostolate of young people, families, consecrated men and women, widows and widowers–lay people in every situation. It involves young people, families, consecrated, widows, and widowers gathered around their priest.
For the New Evangelization to bear fruit in souls, the priest need not be particularly competent (witness the pastor of St. Andrew/St. Gerard in Roanoke, Va.!) But he must be celibate; he must commit his whole heart to love Christ (Head and members) and no one else.
Priests currently married can continue in ministry, of course. But let’s acknowledge there’s no future in it.
Why the communal cheer for Evangelium Vitae? One thing on which everyone still standing at the end of the process will agree: We are pro-life!
Nicaea III will manifest Holy Church, more united than She has been for a thousand years. That union already almost-exists, thanks to: 1) Vatican II, and the ensuing efforts of many courageous souls, Pope St. John Paul II pre-eminent among them. And 2) the spiritually desperate state of the contemporary world, which exercises a pressure on Christians to get down to basics.
A successful Council of this kind could lead to persecutions and martyrdoms afterwards, because the captains of the world will panic at the sight. Not to mention how hard it will be to get the Turkish government to co-operate. And we’ll need as much money as the Olympics.
May God’s will be done. Just an idea I had today while rambling in the woods. Your Holiness, I think this thing could be so awesome that Prince would come back from the dead to play covers of your favorite Christian-rock songs at the Saturday-night vigil before the concluding Mass!