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Vatican II 50 years on

Fifty years ago over two thousand bishops, experts, and ecumenical observers were at the start of the Second Vatican Council. They would meet during periods over four years, and produce remarkable decisions that have changed Christian history. They produced transforming documents such as Lumen Gentium (on ecclesiology), Sacrosanctum Concilium (on liturgy), and Dei Verbum (on revelation).

What is the legacy we now share from that Council fifty years on? The most obvious, to me, are ecumenical spirit, shared liturgical approaches (including a shared lectionary), a focus on scripture, a renewal of spirituality, a growth in seeing laity as full partners in the mission and ministry of the church and of Christ. What do you see?

From the Opening Speech by Pope John XXIII:

…As regards the initiative for the great event which gathers us here, it will suffice to repeat as historical documentation our personal account of the first sudden bringing up in our heart and lips of the simple words, “Ecumenical Council.” We uttered those words in the presence of the Sacred College of Cardinals on that memorable January 25, 1959, the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, in the basilica dedicated to him. It was completely unexpected, like a flash of heavenly light, shedding sweetness in eyes and hearts. And at the same time it gave rise to a great fervor throughout the world in expectation of the holding of the Council.

There have elapsed three years of laborious preparation, during which a wide and profound examination was made regarding modern conditions of faith and religious practice, and of Christian and especially Catholic vitality. These years have seemed to us a first sign, an initial gift of celestial grace.

Illuminated by the light of this Council, the Church — we confidently trust — will become greater in spiritual riches and gaining the strength of new energies therefrom, she will look to the future without fear. In fact, by bringing herself up to date where required, and by the wise organization of mutual co-operation, the Church will make men, families, and peoples really turn their minds to heavenly things.

And thus the holding of the Council becomes a motive for wholehearted thanksgiving to the Giver of every good gift, in order to celebrate with joyous canticles the glory of Christ our Lord, the glorious and immortal King of ages and of peoples…

In the present order of things, Divine Providence is leading us to a new order of human relations which, by men’s own efforts and even beyond their very expectations, are directed toward the fulfilment of God’s superior and inscrutable designs. And everything, even human differences, leads to the greater good of the Church…

Our duty is not only to guard this precious treasure, as if we were concerned only with antiquity, but to dedicate ourselves with an earnest
will and without fear to that work which our era demands of us, pursuing thus the path which the Church has followed for twenty centuries.

The salient point of this Council is not, therefore, a discussion of one article or another of the fundamental doctrine of the Church which has repeatedly been taught by the Fathers and by ancient and modern theologians, and which is presumed to be well known and familiar to all…

The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another. And it is the latter that must be taken into great consideration with patience if necessary, everything being measured in the forms and proportions of a Magisterium which is predominantly pastoral in character…

You may have recognised some faces in the above clip. In the slightly different editing of the above clip Karol Józef Wojtyła (later to be John Paul II) at 0:40 and Frère Roger of Taizé (I am blessed to have met him) at 2:22 in

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7 thoughts on “Vatican II 50 years on”

  1. 50 years on from the Opening of the Council, those of us who born subsequent can only know what preceded and what occurred through histories oral and written. Those born in the years that followed were born into a Church that had hope, a church that opened up ecumenically – remember joint Anglican and catholic Sunday services in the 1980’s. We still have no woman deacons, no woman priests and theological discussion of current topics such as same-sex attractions and partnerships has become polemic rather than ecumenical. A people without a vision perish, and John XXIII had a vision, what Paul VI slowly turned off with Humanae Vitae in 1968 and his claim that the smoke of Satan had entered the Church. With the sudden death of John Paul I, and the long winter under John Paul II, much vision has been lost, and is now just a clouded mirror of what could have been. With no memory of the Opening of the Council I can perhaps only pray for a new wind of the Spirit and a Vatican III.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Phillip. Sadly, I agree with much of what you say – and these points can be made for other denominations also. Let us hope, pray, and work towards the sort of vision that John XXIII and Vatican II had. Blessings.

  2. Before and after Vatican II My wife and I were members of the Roman Communion.
    I well remember the hope we embraced what seemed like a blossoming future. We found “Huminae Vitae” disappointing but not unexpected. Nothing changes completely overnight. And during Paul VI’s time we still lived in hope. In fact we greeted John Paul II with hope that day by day evaporated. I suppose most Catholic Poles of his generation would never grasp liberation theology. In many ways he was a compassionate man as Benedict is intelligent, but both seem anchored in the religious approach that seems to dominate so much of Christianity over the centuries, far removed from the openness and exploration that we glimpse of Jesus in the Gospels. Even Paul indee- “Saint Paul says shit.”
    They behave as many of the pharisees who earned the ire of Jesus.
    We finally moved our worship to the local Anglican Church almost indistinguishable in form.
    I expect if our area had sported one of the more extreme versions of the evangelical type in this diocese we would not have moved and either left completely or struggled on as many do .

  3. Following my previous comments earlier this year at our monthly BCP Evensong we celebrated Vatican II with a homily by the loca priest of thel Catholic Church. i was asked to prepare the prayers. They may be of some interest. I have been told they have been used in other Anglican and, indeed, Catholic churches since.

    The following prayers are based on the words in documents issued by the Second Vatican Council.


    1 All peoples are essentially one, with and under the providence of God, with one final goal. Among all of us humans there is an awareness of the mystery of being, of a hidden power guiding lives and events. We reject nothing that is true and holy and join all peoples in the search for truth, respecting their teachings, ways of life and sacred ceremonies.

    In solidarity with all who search for and try to live in truth,

    May all live in peace, truth and love.

    2 We acknowledge that through rifts and dissensions there are many serious obstacles to full ecclesiastical communion among Christians. But all who strive truly to take on the message and spirit of Jesus Christ are members of the body of Christ and are sisters and brothers with us. Avoiding preconceived judgements

    Guide all Christian peoples to a unity in love.

    May the Holy Spirit inform our hearts

    3. If peace is to be in our times economic justice is needed, the desire for power tamed, We must learn to share our planet in peace and have a system of governance which meets the needs of a peoples.

    Remembering the message you proclaim among all peoples

    Make us people of justice, we pray.

    As peace is more than the absence of war, but comes in the end from love, unless we come together in our own communities it will forever elude us in the wider world. We must share talents and intelligence, love our neighbours , even those who irritate or alienate us, to give peace its only chance. Love goes beyond what justice can achieve.

    Seeking to forgo violence to speak with love, to defend the weak,

    May we be in Christ so that the peace of the world is at hand.

    In the Christian churches we are about the human situation, we are not without bodies, human history unfolds before us with triumph and tragedy. We are bound together carrying an essential word to all humankind.

    Seeking to “make your kingdom come on earth”

    May we have light and courage we pray.

  4. I am one of a vanishing generation of Anglicans who actually was privileged to share the presence of Good Pope John XXIII in St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome, before the inaugural convocation of Vaticen II, during a visit with Roman Catholic friends in the month of May,1960.

    My abiding memory was of this ‘Little Santo’ being borne on his ‘sedia gestatoria’ down the main aisle of his cathedra, in tears (possibly at the indignity of it all) – amongst crowds of worshippers – after ordaining 14 missionary bishops from all corners of the earth. I, too, was in tears – as were most of us in St.Peter’s.

    What began, through this man’s collusion with the Holy Spirit, as a a new ‘Springtime in the Church’ has, sadly, ended in in disappointment and a great deal of frustration. His motto of ‘semper reformanda’ has been abandoned by both the Vatican and subsequent pontiffs – to the detriment of the Church. May he rest in peace!

    1. Thanks, Fr Ron. Frustration there certainly is; but I also think much fruit has also been borne from his vision, and I do not think his vision has yet ended. Let us pray for the collusion with the Holy Spirit to spring up again (pun) through our own lives also. Blessings.

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