The Holy See Search





On 23 March 2006 at the Salesian Institute of the Sacred Heart in Rome a symposium was held on a new set of volumes Monumenta Liturgica Concilii Tridentini.

On the occasion Archbishop Piero Marini gave a paper entitled ‘Returning to the Sources’ in Italian of which we give the English translation.

Things old and new

The bride of the incarnate Word, the Church taught by the Holy Spirit, is concerned to move ahead toward a deeper understanding of the Sacred Scriptures so that she may increasingly feed her sons and daughters with the divine words. Therefore she also encourages the study of the holy Fathers of both East and West and of sacred liturgies [1].

In the light of this desire expressed by Vatican II in the Dei Verbum, we welcome and appreciate with even greater conviction every effort to pore over the great tradition of the Church in order to draw from her treasures "both the new and the old (nova et vetera)" (cf. Mt 13,52). This is the work of every scribe who "becomes a disciple of the kingdom of heaven” as Matthew again says; work which demands continual re-reading and bringing to light of the new hidden in a treasure tradito ‘handed over’.

This was spirit that moved both the Second Vatican Council and the ensuing renewal of the Church willed by that assembly. Not by chance in fact this particular passage of the Gospel of Matthew is quoted in the Preamble of the new Roman Missal as a conclusion to justify and explain the revision of that important liturgical source:

In this manner the Church while remaining faithful to her office as teacher of truth safeguarding "things old," that is, the deposit of tradition, fulfils at the same time another duty, that of examining and prudently bringing forth "things new" (see Mt. 13:52). [2].

Old and new therefore, if they are authentic expressions of the faith and human experience, rather than confront each other in insoluble contrast, on the contrary sustain and illuminate one another reciprocally.

Safeguard and foster

The Church’s treasure, as we well know, consists firstly of Scripture in which is contained a Word of God that asks to be brought continually into the light of our today. However besides Scripture the Church also has the treasure of Patristic tradition and the Liturgy from which to draw in order to rediscover her truest dimension as a pilgrim community.

Scripture, the Fathers and the Liturgical sources, are not simply testimonies of past history, a subject of archaeological interest, they are testimonials in the deepest sense of the word of a ‘story’ between God and his people. They are the knots in the woven fabric of which we are the newest threads striving to interlace with one another to form new cloth.

The Church’s labour is precisely this: bringing forth the deeply ingrained new, reshaping an already established deposit. And to do this she must pore over the sources of her faith keeping before her eyes - or better in her heart, the needs of the world today.

Certainly as we look back we must avoid any sort of archaeologism: the sources do not supply us with pre-packed patterns to re-propose. We are not children of a legendary past, instead, believing that the Lord Jesus will come again, we attest that fulfilment lies not behind but ahead of us. Nevertheless we must be wary of flying ahead without roots which would therefore be flying ahead without a goal.

So, no looking back! In fact rediscovering the sources of one’s faith is not moving back, just as authentic prophecy is not moving on. Going to the sources, if we think carefully, is not a temporal itinerary back to the past, but rather a journey which probes deep and goes to the essential. This is a journey which helps us asses the ecclesial nature of our faith, our ideas and our responses to the challenges of today.

Faith lived by the Church

Only a lived faith, a faith which has a history even though a travailed one, is a faith truly catholic where this term indicates not only a synchronic character but also a diachronic one just as important. What is needed is vision which dares go beyond our most recent past, as again the Preamble of the new Roman Missal recalls:

The "tradition of the Fathers" does not require merely the preservation of what our immediate forbears have passed on to us but also an understanding of the Church's entire past and of all the ways in which her one and only faith has been set forth in the quite diverse human and social forms prevailing in Semitic, Greek, and Latin cultures. Moreover this broader view allows us to see how the Holy Spirit endows the people of God with a marvellous fidelity in preserving the unalterable deposit of faith, even amid a great variety of prayers and rites.[3].

Going to the sources is a way of rediscovering and living a treasure which is the principal trait of catholicity, a wealth of forms, ideas, attempted solutions. Probably none of them will be suitable for our day. But it is the itinerary that interests us, and the variety of approaches. This is the greatest gift tradition can offer us. This is why tradition is first of all master of intelligence, master of freedom, master of otherness (alterity).  Tradition will rarely offer ready made solutions, but instead accompany us – if our spirit is attentive - as it were to the threshold and, rather than take the place of our creativity, stimulate our intelligence.

Place of Communion

This treasure of the Church will be also a place of encounter and communion as the prologue of the First Letter of St John the Apostle says:

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands... we proclaim now to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us (1Jn 1,1-3).

Place of communion therefore between the witnesses to the Risen Lord and us, the men and women of today, and between us and those to whom we have the responsibility to transmit the faith and the deposit received.

And when Christians experience division, it is again there that they must have recourse in order to heal lacerated communion. Precisely the Council of Trent, inviting Christians of the Confession of Augusta to take part in the Council, promises and hopes that:

controverted matters shall be treated of in the aforesaid Council of Trent, according to sacred Scripture, and the traditions of the apostles, approved Councils, the consent of the Catholic Church, and the affirmations of the holy Fathers;[4].

It is there that we can meet: over Scripture and over our great tradition. There we can acknowledge one another and resume our path together, in that essential which only a broad vision encompassing the whole of ancient tradition of every time and place, can offer us.

Lex orandi, lex credendi

However it is above all in the Liturgy that renewal cannot do without a sincere and profound return to the sources: sources of that which is celebrated and sources of that which is believed (lex orandi, lex credendi). Digging deep into the sources, the theologian and the liturgist aim simply to penetrate the profundity of the mystery of the faith as it has shown itself in the concrete life of the Church all through her history.

Piero Marini

[1] Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) 23; in Decisioni dei concili ecumenici, by G. Alberigo, UTET, Torino 1978, p. 1000.

[2] Roman Missal, revised in keeping with decrees issued by the Second Vatican Council  and promulgated by Pope Paul VI, Preamble 15.

[3] Roman Missal, revised in keeping with decrees issued by the Second Vatican Council  and promulgated by Pope Paul VI, Preamble 9.

[4] Council of Trent, Session XV, 25 January 1552; in Decisioni dei concili ecumenici, by G. Alberigo, UTET, Torino 1978, pp. 622-623.