Year of Faith - The Second Vatican Council

Journey in Faith

The Autumn 2012 Journey in Faith program at St. Augustine of Canterbury is looking at the documents of Vatican II in preparation of the Year of Faith. Where possible I'll be posting notes, comments and presentation by the speakers at these meetings.

Yesterday Deacon Mike opened the series of talks with an introduction to Vatican II. The journey in faith talks are free to all and held in St. Augustine of Canterbury Parish Hall, Boscombe Crescent, Downend, Bristol, BS16 6QR.

Notes from Deacon Michael Belt's Journey in Faith talk for the 20th September 2012

Pope Benedict XVI has proclaimed the coming year, beginning on 11th October 2012, and ending on the Feast of Christ the King, 24th November 2013, a “YEAR OF FAITH”.

This Year of  Faith marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, in Rome on 11th October 1962. It also, incidentally, coincides with the 20th anniversary of the publication of The Catechism of the Catholic Church, a work that Pope Benedict has described as “an authentic fruit of the Second Vatican Council”.

It was Pope John XIII who, early in 1959, less than three months after his election as Pope, announced that the Council would take place. Vatican II was the twenty first general or ecumenical council of the Church. It was the only general Council to be convened in the 20th century, and only the second general Council since the 16th century Protestant Reformation. It is regarded by many as the most significant religious event since the Reformation, and it was certainly the most important religious event of the 20th century.

Pope John XXIII’s principal aim in calling the Council was to ensure that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine be guarded and taught more effectively. In his opening homily at the Council, he encouraged the Council fathers to work out ways and means of proclaiming these truths in a manner more consistent with a pastoral view of the Church’s teaching office. In addition, he urged the Council fathers to work for the unity that Christ so desired.

The Second Vatican Council met at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome for four separate sessions, which took place over four years. At the beginning, 2,540 council fathers — bishops from every corner of the world — met in the nave of the basilica, joined by 1,000 superiors of religious congregations, official observers, theologians and other experts.

One of the official observers was Frank Duff, the founder of the Legion of Mary.

Provisions were made for the media, governmental representatives and also 80 official attendants from other Christian churches. They, apparently, had the best seats in the Basilica!

In contrast, there were only 737 council fathers at the First Vatican Council in 1869-70. That was still significantly more than the 259 bishops who, at various stages, attended the Council of Trent (1545-63). Trent was the last general council before Vatican I and was enormously important for the Church.

The much greater attendance at Vatican II was, I am sure, due to the development of somewhat better means of transport since the time of Vatican I.   Vatican I was dominated by Europeans, many of them being European bishops who were pastors of dioceses in mission lands, such as those in the African continent. By the mid-20th century the bishops of most of these dioceses were natives of those lands.

Among the bishops eligible to attend Vatican II were 1089 from Europe, 489 from South America, 404 from North America, 374 from Asia, 296 from Africa, 84 from Central America, and 75 from the Pacific region.

All the speeches made at the Council were in Latin. A bishop from the USA, Cardinal Cushing, had offered to pay for a simultaneous translation system, similar to the one that was in use in the United Nations, but, for some reason, his offer had been declined!

The Council was, however, the first in history to have electric light, telephones, typewriters and other “modern” forms of communication (although it did not yet have access to the computers, satellite technology and other forms of electronic communication that are part of our everyday lives today). It was also the first Council to be covered by newspapers, magazines, radio and television from all over the world, although the news media were not allowed into St Peter’s during the sessions, but they had to rely on press hand-outs and on the reports of friendly bishops and observers.

The Council was unique in its stated purpose as well. Unlike many of the previous Councils, Vatican II had not been called as a matter of urgency in order to combat heresy or to deal with any serious threat to the unity of the Church. On the contrary, in his opening address, Pope John said that the Council’s goal was to eradicate the seeds of discord and to promote the peace and unity of all mankind, not to repeat traditional doctrinal formulations or to condemn errors.

The preparation of the agendas for the four Council sessions was the most extensive and democratic in the history of the Church. Some 9,300 proposals were submitted, and these were sifted by eleven preparatory commissions appointed by Pope John. These commissions, which were composed chiefly of “safe” Rome-based theologians, met between November 1960 and June 1962. Finally, in July 1962, seven comprehensive documents were issued to the bishops of the world in preparation for the opening of the Council in the October. These documents were concerned with the sources of revelation, the moral order, the deposit of faith, the family and chastity, liturgy, media, and unity.

The first Council session (in 1962) was a very dramatic, stormy and controversial one. It mainly concerned the refusal of the bishops to accept the Roman Curia’s organisation of conciliar commissions, the initial debate on the document  on the liturgy, and the initial debates on the document on the Church and the document on revelation.

The three subsequent sessions (1963 to 1965) were, at times, less stormy.  Pope John died in June 1963 and was succeeded by the progressive Cardinal  Montini, who took the name Paul VI. His address at the opening of the second session, on 29th September 1963, listed four aims of the Council: the development of a clearer idea of the Church, its renewal, the unity of all Christians and dialogue between the Church and the world.

The results of Vatican II fit into one paperback volume. There are 16 documents in all, including four significant “Constitutions”. It is striking that the documents in their final form were passed with near-unanimity by the Council fathers. The scope of the subjects debated by the Council is also striking: from liturgy to ecumenism, and from priestly formation to religious freedom. These subjects have been explained and developed over the past 50 years under the guidance of successive Popes.

Some of the major works that have followed Vatican II are:
  • The revised Rite of the Mass
  • The Catechism of the Catholic Church.
  • The revised Code of Canon Law
  • The revised version of the Divine Office.
There are numerous other revised rites and countless books.

Finally, in preparation for the coming Year of Faith, the Bishops of England and Wales have recommended that we revisit some of the major documents of Vatican II, and they have specifically asked that we study the four documents that we ourselves will be looking at in the coming months, namely, the Constitutions on the Church (Lumen Gentium), Divine Revelation (Dei verbum), the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium), and the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et spes).

Next week, we will begin with the Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium), and hopefully discover something of the Mystery of the Church and its members – The People of God.

Post by Guest Author Deacon Michael Belt

More Posts about the Documents of the Second Vatican Council

The journey in faith talks are free to all and held in at 7:30pm on Thursday eveings at:
St. Augustine of Canterbury Parish Hall, Boscombe Crescent, Downend, Bristol, BS16 6QR.
Tel: 0117 983 3939

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