Friday, December 28, 2007

Paul VI - The forgotten Pope

Paul VI was the Pope when I was born. When he died I remember that he was at that time the only Pope I had ever known; this dour product of the Milanese bourgeoisie was our spiritual Father at the time.

However history has not been kind to him. He has been reviled by the liberals for his last Encyclical Humanae Vitae, and has been reviled by ultra-conservatives for not reigning in the liberal elements of Vatican II and his lasting legacy, the Missal of Paul VI.

Overall his papacy has been painted as a disaster, and Paul VI completely unable to control the forces arising out of the Council.

However, I believe that unlike Pius XII, who had external forces to contend with, and John XXIII who died before the internal forces in the church swung out of control, Paul VI had the issues both of a church and a world spiralling out of control. He did his best in the circumstances.

In liturgy, he successfully reigned in the liturgical looneys who wanted to suppress everything that happened in liturgical development since the time of St Justin Martyr, and had something produced that was a synthesis of the ancient and modern liturgical thought. If there are some criticisms it may have been in the subsequent developments in liturgy of the 1970s (Holy Communion in the hand, excessive Eucharistic prayers, Extraordinary Ministers etc), that seemed to be able to get their own way in the general environment of chaos.

The most poignant parts of this video are Paul VI on his travels (the first Pope to do so on an international scale) and the last procession in the Basilica of St John Lateran after the funeral service for the assassinated politician Aldo Moro. In this final scene, you definitely see a broken man on the sedia gestatori - he does not bless or acknowledge anyone, but looks straight ahead. His sermon at the service saying "Eloi Eloi lama sabacthani!" is himself crying out to God. This is a Pope who wrote no encyclical for the last 9 years of his pontificate, and did not travelling for the last 8 years, but a person who became a recluse.

Let us pray for him, the Servant of God Paulus VI.

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