In the upcoming months, at the invitation of the Florida Catholic, I will be writing a series of reflections on Catholicism entitled, The Splendor of Our Faith. Many of the topics discussed will be based on questions submitted to the paper by our readers. It does my heart well to see such an interest among the faithful, especially Millennial and Gen Z Catholics, to rediscover the origins of our religion. There is a wellspring of young Catholics in our diocese and indeed throughout our country who are yearning for a more substantial and theological understanding of the Church. My hope is that these articles will serve as a source of education and formation in our faith while simultaneously providing a springboard for the reader to do further research. To this end, I will ensure to provide quotations and references in every article specifically from Sacred Scripture and the writings of the ancient Church Fathers. Following the model of Vatican II, our first collection of reflections will be about the sacred liturgy, a topic of great import and sometimes tension in the contemporary life of the Church.
Our Catholic faith can only be described as “splendorous”. “Splendor” comes from the Latin word speciosa meaning “to shine forth” or “be brilliant”. The Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar reminds us that speciosa is related to the word forma (“form”/ “shape”) which is a derivative of formosus, the Latin word for “beautiful”. In other words, when something is “splendorous” it means that it brilliantly reveals and conveys the beautiful. Properly speaking, splendor is the “shining through” of beauty in a way so grand and awe-inspiring that it is beyond description. That is Catholicism; that is the Catholic Church…she is splendorous. Her liturgy, her teachings, her saints, her history, her struggles, her triumphs…all of them are transcended with the light of God’s radiance. The Church and her faith are where the divine is manifested in history.
In the end, to write about the Catholic Church is not simply to outline teachings or moral practices. It is not enough to report data and ethics. As Catholics, we are part of a story strewn with prestige and largesse, drama and adventure, trial and glory. Our predecessors include the most accomplished and selfless people in world history. No other institution has done more for the cultural, intellectual and societal enrichment of civilization than the Catholic Church. We are philosophers and theologians, builders and founders, artists and musicians, scientists and doctors, kings and presidents, lawyers and teachers. Catholic genius spans the whole breath of human endeavor. Yet, all of its success is not to be found in ambitious exploit or grueling conquest, but rather, in the simple hearts of men and women who sought to love their God and His creation after the model of our Savior: “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn. 13:34). The Catholic Church is the world’s heartbeat. When Jesus promised to be with His Apostles until the end of the age, He was referring to the Church (see Matt. 28:20). Through the sacraments and ministry of the Catholic Church, Jesus is still in our midst, not as an idea or memory, but as a person fully alive.
It was Joseph Cardinal Bernardin who recognized the Second Vatican Council as the “most important event in the life of the Catholic Church during the twentieth century”. Unfortunately, the initial excitement revolving around the council has tapered off in the past several decades. As a result, the vast majority of Catholics remain wholly unfamiliar with the teachings of Vatican II. This is why Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI asserts that the primary evangelical initiative of the Church in our time is to rediscover the graces of the Second Vatican Council and educate the faithful through its writings.
In the opening document of Vatican II, the bishops summarize their mission as a responsibility to “impart an ever-increasing vigor to the Christian life of the faithful”. With these words in mind, it is clear that the tendency to define Vatican II as a “pastoral council”-although not incorrect-is most certainly incomplete. More than anything, Vatican II was a mystogogical council, which is to say, a council dedicated to reacquainting the average Catholic with the fundamentals of their faith. In a world overrun by secularism and materialism, the council fathers recognized the need for a renewal and re-presentation of the Church’s essential uniqueness. Instead of being laden with legalistic or practical considerations, the documents of Vatican II are rich with spiritual and theological reflection. In particular, the four major constitutions provide a stunning synthesis of our Catholic faith beginning with the Sacred Liturgy as the “source and summit” and closing with the Church’s task of evangelizing and converting the world to Christ.
Taking the words of our Pope Emeritus to heart, this new series in the Florida Catholic will be guided and informed by the spirit of the Second Vatican Council. As such, all of the articles published in this section of the paper will be catechetical in nature, seeking to explain the basics of our faith and imbue the souls of our readers with the tradition of Mother Church. Thus, we arrive at the title of our new series: The Splendor of Our Faith.
I want to thank the Florida Catholic for prioritizing the spiritual formation of our readers as well as allowing me this opportunity to serve the People of God. The Florida Catholic’s desire to support such a series shows their stalwart dedication to building up the Body of Christ. My prayer is that these articles will help all of us grow in a deeper love and appreciation for the splendor of our faith.
Father Blake Britton is a priest of the Diocese of Orlando, Florida. He is the author of numerous theological publications and a contributing writer to several religious outlets including Bishop Robert Barron’s Word on Fire ministries and the Evangelization & Culture journal. He is also a co-host of the Burrowshire Podcast along with best-selling author Brandon Vogt.
By Father Blake Britton