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Vatican II praised Eastern traditions

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 9 August 1995 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. On the topic of ecumenism, what the Second Vatican Council says about relations between the Eastern Orthodox Churches and the Catholic Church is especially important: the current separation cannot make us forget the long way we have come together. "For many centuries the Church of the East and that of the West each followed their separate ways though linked in a brotherly union of faith and sacramental life; the Roman See by common consent acted as guide when disagreements arose between them over matters of faith or discipline" (UR 14). During that historical period, the Eastern Churches had their own way of celebrating and expressing the mystery of the common faith and their own discipline. Their legitimate differences did not prevent them from accepting the ministry entrusted to Peter and his successors.

2. On their journey together, the West received a great deal from the East in the area of liturgy, spiritual tradition and juridical order. Furthermore, "The ecumenical councils held in the East...defined the basic dogmas of the Christian faith, on the Trinity, on the Word of God who took flesh of the Virgin Mary" (UR 14). The doctrinal development which occurred in the East in the early centuries was decisive for the formulation of the Church's universal faith. Here I would like to remember with deep veneration the doctrine defined by several ecumenical councils in the first centuries: the consubstantiality of the Son with the Father, at Nicea in 325; the divinity of the Holy Spirit, at the First Council of Constantinople, celebrated in 381; the divine motherhood of Mary, at Ephesus in 431; the one person and two natures of Christ, at Chalcedon in 451. The thematic developments that make it possible to understand with increasing clarity the "unsearchable riches" of Christ's mystery (cf. Eph 3:8) must be based on this fundamental contribution which is definitive for the Christian faith.

The Second Vatican Council refrained from examining the circumstances of the separation, as well as from evaluating the mutual rebukes. It merely noted that the same inheritance received from the apostles was developed in different places and various ways in the East and in the West, "owing to diversities of genius and conditions of life" (UR 14). This created problems that, in addition to "external causes, prepared the way for decisions arising also from a lack of charity and mutual understanding" (UR 14). The memory of the painful pages of the past, instead of imprisoning us in recrimination and controversy, should spur us to mutual understanding and charity, in the present and in the future.

3 In this regard, I would like to stress the great consideration shown by the Council for the spiritual treasures of the Christian East, starting with those connected with the sacred liturgy. The Eastern Churches celebrate the liturgy with great love. This is especially true with regard to the Eucharistic celebration, where we are all called to an ever greater discovery of the "source of the Church's life and pledge of future glory" (UR 15). In it, "The faithful, united with their bishop, have access to God the Father through the Son, the Word made flesh, who suffered and has been glorified, and so, in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, they enter into communion with the most holy Trinity, being made 'sharers of the divine nature' (2 Pet 1:4). Hence, through the celebration of the Holy Eucharist in each of these churches, the Church of God is built up and grows in stature" (UR 15).

Then the Decree on Ecumenism recalls the Eastern Churches' devotion to Mary, the Ever-Virgin Mother of God, who is extolled with splendid hymns. Devotion to the Theotókos highlights the essential importance of Mary in the work of redemption and also sheds light on the meaning and value of the veneration given to the saints. The decree puts special emphasis on the spiritual traditions, especially those of the monastic life, observing that they were the source "from which Latin monastic life took its rise and has drawn fresh vigor ever since" (UR 15).

The contribution of the East to the life of Christ's Church was and still is very important. Thus the Council exhorts Catholics: "The very rich liturgical and spiritual heritage of the Eastern Churches should be known, venerated, preserved and cherished by all. They must recognize that this is of supreme importance for the faithful preservation of the fullness of Christian tradition, and for bringing about reconciliation between Eastern and Western Christians" (UR 15). In particular, Catholics are invited "to avail themselves of the spiritual riches of the Eastern Fathers" in the tradition of a spirituality which "lifts up the whole man to the contemplation of the divine" (UR 15).

4. Concerning aspects of intercommunion, the recent Ecumenical Directory confirms and states precisely all that the Council said. A certain intercommunion is possible, since the Eastern Churches possess true sacraments, especially the priesthood and the Eucharist.

On this sensitive point, specific instructions have been issued, stating that, whenever it is impossible for a Catholic to have recourse to a Catholic priest, he may receive the sacraments of Penance, the Eucharist and the Anointing of the Sick from the minister of an Eastern Church (Directory 123). Reciprocally, Catholic ministers can licitly administer the sacraments of Penance, the Eucharist and the Anointing of the Sick to Eastern Christians who ask for them. However, any form of pastoral activity that does not give due consideration to the dignity and freedom of conscience should be avoided. In other specific cases, provisions have been made for forms of communicatio in sacris in particular concrete situations.

In this context, I would like to convey a cordial greeting to those Eastern Churches who live in full communion with the Bishop of Rome, while still preserving their ancient liturgical, disciplinary and spiritual traditions. They offer a special witness to that diversity in unity which adds to the beauty of Christ's Church. Today more than ever, the mission entrusted to them is one of service to the unity Christ desired for his Church, by sharing "in the dialogue of love and in the theological dialogue at both the local and international levels, and thus contributing to mutual understanding..." (UUS 60).

5. According to the Council, "The Churches of the East, while remembering the necessary unity of the whole Church, have the power to govern themselves according to the disciplines proper to them" (UR 16). There is also a legitimate diversity in handing on the one doctrine received from the apostles. The various theological formulas of the East and the West are frequently complementary rather than conflicting. The Council also notes that the authentic theological traditions of the Orientals are admirably rooted in Holy Scripture (cf. UR 17).

Therefore, we must grow in our knowledge of what the Council taught and recommended about respecting the practices, customs and spiritual traditions of the Eastern Churches. We must strive for relations of sincere charity and fruitful collaboration with them, in full fidelity to the truth. We can only share and repeat our wish that "friendly collaboration with them may increase, in the spirit of love, to the exclusion of all feeling of rivalry or strife" (UR 18). Yes, may the Lord truly grant this as a gift of his love to the Church of our time!"

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di espressione francese 

Chers frères et sœurs,

Je suis heureux de saluer les pèlerins de rite oriental présents ce matin: notamment un groupe de la paroisse maronite de Saint Elie à Antélias, au Liban, et un pèlerinage de la paroisse de rite syrien de la Sainte Famille à Beyrouth. Avec joie, je salue aussi les pèlerins conduits par la Fraternité Sainte Rita, de Bangui en Centrafrique. À tous, je donne de grand cœur la Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai pellegrini di lingua inglese 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I greet all the English–speaking visitors, especially the pilgrims from England, Ireland, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the United States. My special greeting goes to the young people from Mesa, Arizona. To the group of Penitentiary officials from Thailand, in Rome for a consultation on drug rehabilitation, I offer good wishes and the assurance of my prayers. Upon all of you I cordially invoke God’s grace and peace.

Ai visitatori di lingua tedesca 

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit diesen kurzen Gedanken grüe ich alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher sehr herzlich und wünsche Euch einen erholsamen Urlaub. Euch allen, Euren lieben Angehörigen zu Hause sowie den mit uns über Radio Vatikan und das Fernsehen verbundenen Gläubigen erteile ich gern meinen Apostolischen Segen. 

Ai fedeli di espressione spagnola 

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Saludo ahora con todo afecto a los peregrinos y visitantes de lengua española. En particular a los grupos parroquiales de Barcelona, Gerona, Huelva, Zumárraga, Elgueta y Granollers, así como al Grupo Cultural San Nicolás, de Yecla, y al Grupo de Bailes Populares de Tabernes de Valldigna. También a los peregrinos de la Arquidiócesis de Puerto Rico. A todos deseo que la estancia en la Ciudad Eterna sea un momento de gracia en vuestras vacaciones.

Al agradeceros vuestra visita, os imparto de corazón la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini portoghesi

Queridos Irmãos e Irmãs,

Dou as boas–vindas a todos os peregrinos de expressão e da nação portuguesa, de modo particular aos elementos do Coro da Universidade Católica no Porto: procurai imitar a Virgem Maria, cujo coração exultava no Senhor, não se cansando de meditar e celebrar as maravilhas do Omnipotente! No meio das amarguras da vida, sede os cantores daquela alegria com que Deus olha e abraça todas as suas criaturas. Deus vos conceda abundantes graças e as melhores prosperidades cristãs, que imploramos para vós e vossas famílias, ao dar–vos a Bênção Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini polacchi

Witam wszystkich pielgrzymów z Polski, w szczególności pozdrawiam parafię Chrystusa Króla z Bielska–Białej, z Tuchowa – chór z sanktuarium redemptorystów na 50–lecie istnienia, parafię Opatrzności Bożej salezjanów z Rzeszowa, z Katowic – V pielgrzymkę Huty Baildon, ponadto pielgrzymów ze Skierniewic, z Bełchatowa, ze Strzelc Opolskich, Gliwic, Sosnowca, młodzież oazową z Siedlec i KSM z archidiecezji warmińskiej. Witam Polaków z Wilna i z Węgier. Pozdrawiam Zespół Tańca Ludowego “Pruszkowiacy”.

Dzisiejsza katecheza to dalszy ciąg katechez o Kościele i o ekumenizmie. W szczególności dzisiejsza katecheza dotyczyła sprawy stosunku Kościoła katolickiego do Kościoła prawosławnego. Ta sprawa ma swoją historię również i w naszej, polskiej historii, między Zachodem i Wschodem, zwłaszcza kiedy Polska rozciągała się bardziej na Wschód, wówczas na jej terytorium było bardzo wielu wyznawców Kościoła prawosławnego i na terenie Polski dokonała się również Unia Kościołów, Unia Brzeska, do której 400–lecia się zbliżamy: 1596–1996. Jest szczególna jedność w różnorodności między Kościołem Zachodnim i Wschodnim: jedność wiary, jedność sakramentów, jedność kultu maryjnego, różnorodność tradycji, zwłaszcza liturgicznej. Nie trzeba, aby ta różnorodność bogactwa była źródłem podziału, ale źródłem jedności w wielości. O to się stale modlimy.

Dziękuję wam wszystkim za odwiedziny, i pruszkowiakom za to, że śpiewali, zwłaszcza o górach i o Krakowie. Bóg zapłać.

Ai giovani, ai malati e agli sposi novelli 

Saluto poi i giovani, gli ammalati e gli sposi novelli qui presenti. Domani celebreremo la festa liturgica di San Lorenzo, diacono e martire. Come Lorenzo, anche voi, cari giovani, siate generosi nel testimoniare il Vangelo, sempre disponibili verso i poveri e quanti si trovano in difficoltà. Auguro questo soprattutto a voi che prendete parte al “Campo Internazionale” promosso dall’Opera “Giorgio La Pira”, e vi esorto ad essere, sull’esempio del Professor La Pira, costruttori di pace e di unità.

Invito voi, cari ammalati, ad accettare di servire il Signore nella sofferenza, chiedendo con insistenza che nei momenti di tenebra, quando la prova si fa più dura, il suo amore sia per voi luce e conforto.

E voi, cari sposi novelli, sappiate fondare la vostra famiglia sulla fedele adesione alla volontà di Dio in ogni circostanza.

A tutti la mia Benedizione Apostolica.

A un gruppo di esuli croati 

Saluto di cuore gli esuli croati di Baranjsko Petrovo Selo, ospitati in questi giorni in Italia dalla Caritas diocesana di Città di Castello e della parrocchia San Donato di Trestina. 

Carissimi, sono profondamente addolorato per le infinite tragedie della guerra iniziate ormai da oltre quattro anni. Insieme a voi elevo al Signore le preghiere affinché al più presto arrivi il giorno della vera pace nell’intera area del Sud Est d’Europa, come pure in altre parti del mondo.

A voi ed a quanti come voi vivono il dramma di profughi ed esuli imparto la Benedizione Apostolica.

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