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New and old in the Church

In his article ‘Thank you; but no thank you’ (The Sunday Times of Malta, July 17), which discussed the curious position of a Vatican prelate, Fr Joe Borg wrote that “our local brand of Tridentine conservatives, fuelled by several priests who were ordained during the past 15 years or so, were thrilled to no end”.

What is old, what is new in religion? What is progressive, conservative? If Fr Borg’s comment is valid, how come younger priests are giving the impression that they are conservative or antiquated, and the elderly priests more progressive or more modern? Admittedly these phrases – antiquated, modern – doctrinally mean very little, but they could have relative pastoral importance.

At 75 I am adamant not to distance myself from the young in general and more so from younger priests, and not to fall into the trap of the so-called ‘generation gap’. It would be stupid of us elderly in the Church to disdain any suggestion coming from the young, and equally stupid of the younger priests and laity – but especially the priests – to fall into the same trap.

I am in the 50th year of my priesthood. It is opportune to point out that the reforms that came about in the post-Vatican II Church, such as introducing the local language in the liturgy, were brought about by the old of today!

Other reforms simplified liturgical vestments: parish priests put away their munzetta (mozzetta) and the monsignors used the mitre more sparingly.

Great strides forward were taken in the administration of Church finances, including in Malta, leaving behind traces of feudalism and emphasising the fact that the Church is not after money for its own sake. Priests’ salaries reflect the fact that priestly life is essentially a mission, not a profession.

The missionary spirit was revamped by Vatican II. Most of today’s missionaries are among the elderly who are fortunately passing on a praiseworthy example to the young.

Above all, the magisterium accepted the principle of ‘development of doctrine’ meaning that not all teaching is ‘dogmatic’ in nature.

Pope Francis, who was incidentally chosen by elderly cardinals, is helping the Church, through the celebration of Synods, not to forget the irreversible path traced by Vatican II.

Let us pray that the fear expressed by Fr Borg, that a closed Tridentine  mentality is “fuelled by several priests who were ordained during the past 15 years or so” abates, following in the footsteps of Pope Francis whose pontificate is epitomising the best of  Vatican II.

After all, one is justified in asking, what is old, what is new in the practice of religion?

One thing is certain: fundamentalism kills the Spirit.

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