ZE06042606 - 2006-04-26
Role of Church Tradition
"Communion Embraces All Times and All Generations"
VATICAN CITY, APRIL 26, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today at the general audience, on the theme "Tradition: Communion in Time."
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Dear Brothers and Sisters:
Thank you for your affection! In the new series of catechesis initiated a short time ago, we tried to understand the original design of the Church desired by the Lord to comprehend better our participation, our Christian life, in the great communion of the Church. Until now we have understood that ecclesial communion is aroused and sustained by the Holy Spirit, guarded and promoted by the apostolic ministry. And this communion, which we call Church, does not extend only to all believers of a certain historical moment, but embraces also all times and all generations. Therefore, we find ourselves before a double universality: the synchronic universality -- we are united with believers in all parts of the world -- and the universality called diachronic, that is, all times belong to us: Believers of the past and of the future form with us only one and great communion.
The Spirit appears as the guarantor of the active presence of mystery in history, who assures its realization through the centuries. Thanks to the Paraclete, the experience of the Risen One, made by the apostolic community in the origins of the Church, will always be able to be lived by successive generations, in the measure that it is transmitted and actualized in faith, in worship and in the communion of the People of God, pilgrim in time. And, in this way, we, now, in Eastertide, live the encounter with the Risen One not only as something of the past, but in the present communion of the faith, of the liturgy, of the life of the Church.
The Church's apostolic Tradition consists in this transmission of the goods of salvation, which makes of the Christian community the permanent actualization, with the force of the Spirit, of the original communion. It is called thus because it was born from the testimony of the apostles and of the community of the disciples in the early years, was given under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the writings of the New Testament, and in the sacramental life, in the life of faith, and the Church makes constant reference to it -- to this Tradition that is the always present reality of the gift of Jesus -- as its foundation and norm through the uninterrupted succession of the apostolic ministry.
In his historical life, Jesus limited his mission to the House of Israel, but he already made it understood that the gift was destined not only for the people of Israel, but for the whole world and for all times. The Risen One then entrusted, explicitly to the apostles (cf. Luke 6:13) the task to make disciples of all nations, guaranteeing his presence and help until the end of time (cf. Matthew 28:19ff).
The universality of salvation calls for, among other things, that the Easter memorial be celebrated in history without interruption until Christ's glorious return (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:26). Who will actualize the salvific presence of the Lord Jesus, through the ministry of the apostles, heads of the eschatological Israel (cf. Matthew 19:28) -- and of the whole life of the people of the New Covenant? The answer is clear: the Holy Spirit. The Acts of the Apostles -- continuing with the plan of Luke's Gospel -- present the mutual understanding between the Spirit, those sent by Christ, and the community gathered by them.
Thanks to the action of the Paraclete, the apostles and their successors can realize in time the mission received through the Risen One: "You are witnesses of these things. And (behold) I am sending the promise of my Father upon you" (Luke 24:48-49). "But you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). And this promise, initially incredible, was already realized in the time of the apostles: "We are witnesses of these things, as is the holy Spirit that God has given to those who obey him" (Acts 5:32).
Therefore, it is the same Spirit who, through the imposition of hands and the prayer of the apostles, consecrates and sends the new missionaries of the Gospel (for example, in Acts 13:3ff and 1 Timothy 4:14). It is interesting to observe that, whereas in some passages it is said that Paul establishes the presbyters in the Churches (cf. Acts 14:23), in others it is affirmed that it is the Holy Spirit who constitutes the pastors of the flock (cf. Acts 20:28).
In this way, the action of the Spirit and of Paul is profoundly fused. In the hour of solemn decisions for the life of the Church, the Spirit is present to guide her. This presence-guide of the Holy Spirit was experienced particularly in the Council of Jerusalem, in whose conclusive words resounded the affirmation: "It is the decision of the holy Spirit and of us" (Acts 15:28); the Church grows and walks "in the fear of the Lord and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 9:31).
This permanent actualization of the active presence of the Lord Jesus in his people, realized by the Holy Spirit and expressed in the Church through the apostolic ministry and fraternal communion, is what is understood by the term Tradition in the theological sense: It is not the mere material transmission of what was given at the beginning to the apostles, but the efficacious presence of the Lord Jesus, crucified and risen, which accompanies and guides in the Spirit the community gathered by him.
Tradition is the communion of the faithful around their legitimate pastors in the course of history, a communion that the Holy Spirit nurtures assuring the nexus between the experience of the apostolic faith, lived in the original community of the disciples, and the present experience of Christ in his Church.
In other words, Tradition is the organic continuity of the Church, holy temple of God the Father, built on the foundation of the Spirit: "So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit" (Ephesians 2:19-22).
Thanks to Tradition, guaranteed by the ministry of the apostles and their successors, the water of life that flowed from the side of Christ and his saving blood comes to the women and men of all times. In this way, Tradition is the permanent presence of the Savior who comes to meet, redeem and sanctify us in the Spirit through the ministry of his Church for the glory of the Father.
Concluding and summarizing, we can therefore say that Tradition is not the transmission of things or words, a collection of dead things. Tradition is the living river that unites us to the origins, the living river in which the origins are always present, the great river that leads us to the port of eternity. In this living river, the word of the Lord that we heard at the beginning from the lips of the reader: "And behold, I am with you always, until the eng of the age" is fulfilled again (Matthew 28:20).
[Translation by ZENIT]
[At the end of the audience, the Holy Father greeted pilgrims in 12 languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Ecclesial communion embraces all times and all generations. Thanks to the action of the Holy Spirit, the early apostolic community experienced the Risen Lord. Successive generations do the same, as the faith is transmitted and lived through worship and the communion of the pilgrim People of God.
From the beginning, Jesus intended that this saving work should extend to all the world and indeed, as we have heard today, the Risen Lord entrusted to the apostles the task of making disciples of all nations while guaranteeing his own presence with them.
This ongoing actualization of the presence of Jesus -- through the work of the Spirit and through the Church's apostolic ministry and fraternal communion -- is what we mean by the term Tradition; it is not just a transmission of "things," but the efficacious presence of the Lord who accompanies and guides the gathered community.
The Holy Spirit nurtures this communion, assuring the connection between the apostolic faith experienced by the first communities of disciples, and our experience today of Christ in his Church. Let us rejoice in the presence of the Savior who comes to meet us, to redeem us, and to sanctify us through the ministry of his Church!
I welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims present, including the pupils and staff from Holy Faith Convent School in Dublin. May your Easter pilgrimage be a time of deep spiritual renewal. Upon you and your families I invoke an abundance of God's blessings of peace and joy!