October 18, 2020

Something monumental happened 58 years ago this week!! On the 11th of October in 1962, Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council! An Ecumenical Council (or universal Council), Vatican II was attended by Popes, Bishops, theologians, and observers including laity and members of other Christian denominations.

As John O’Malley, SJ, describes in his book What Happened at Vatican II: at 8:30 in the morning on October 11th, the procession began to make its way across St. Peter’s square. Tens of thousands gathered, millions more watched on TV as 2,500 council fathers with Pope John XXIII at the end of procession, made there way into St. Peters.  So started four years of work that would change the Church!

There is too much for one short column to review at one time but let’s start with some of the most important things to come out of the Council included four major documents known as Constitutions that hold the highest authority. These include the movement of the Church outward in engagement with the world (Gaudium et Spes), the recognition of the inherent dignity of all the baptized with the subsequent empowering of the laity in the Church and a renewed understanding of the role and ordering of the Church (Lumen Gentium).  The liturgical changes we see today come directly from the Council: full, conscious and active participation of all in the liturgy, use of the vernacular etc (Sacrosactum Concilium).  And the final important major document included a renewed focus on the Scriptures and their interpretation using modern scriptural scholarship (Dei Verbum).

Next week: What happened at that first session? Let’s say it was a dramatic event!!!