VATICAN CITY – Incorrect interpretations of the Second Vatican Council are rooted in a denial or a misunderstanding of the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church, the preacher of the papal household said Dec. 14.
The Holy Spirit "gives us the strength" to put Gospel principles and Church teachings into practice, otherwise "even the Gospel precepts, without the grace of the Holy Spirit, would be 'a letter that kills,'" said Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa.
As preacher of the papal household, Cantalamessa was leading a series of weekly Advent reflections for Pope Benedict and top Vatican officials.
"The insufficient attention paid to the role of the Holy Spirit explains many of the difficulties that arose in the reception of the Second Vatican Council," Cantalamessa said.
There have been two opposing interpretations, he said, while the position of Pope Benedict – that of "renewal in continuity" – has stood between the two extremes.
Traditionalist groups that reject the council represent "a tradition wherein the Holy Spirit played no role at all. It was a collection of beliefs and practices fixed once and for all," he said.
"To freeze the tradition by making it begin, or end, at a certain fixed moment means making it a dead tradition."
The other extreme willingly speaks of "the 'spirit of the council', but unfortunately it was not the Holy Spirit," he said.
He said this vague sense of spirit "is open to every whim." It is accompanied by the belief that the Vatican documents did not show "greater innovative courage" because compromises were made in writing those documents.
The implementation of the council is not a straightforward matter of applying its decrees in a literal way, he said.
"Rather, we must seek to apply them 'in the Spirit,'" that is, the Holy Spirit, that offers the "healing grace of faith" and brings to life the word of Christ.
The paradox of "renewal in continuity" or "permanence in change" is resolved by the Holy Spirit's action within the Church, Cantalamessa said.
The Holy Spirit "doesn't create new sacraments and new institutions. Rather he renews and perennially enlivens" everything Jesus has already created.
The papal preacher said, "The council represents a discontinuity with the Church's recent past and instead represents a continuity with respect to the remote past."
That is, Vatican II is a return to the origins of the Church, "to the biblical and patristic sources of the faith."