Feature articles

A Council unlike any other: Cardinal Danneels

posted 27 Oct 2012, 19:05 by Stefan Gigacz

"Vatican II was a council unlike any preceding one," according to retired Brussels Cardinal Godfried Danneels in a lecture in Amigo Hall, Saint George's Cathedral, London last week. "It was a special event for many reasons. Even though it stands in a long line of councils: it was in many respects a new kind of council."

"Vatican II began 50 years ago. The council fathers themselves have now for the most part passed on. Believers, who experienced it from the outside, remember above all the media excitement and the optimistic atmosphere in which this great church gathering took place. The content of the conciliar texts ‐ though often barely read ‐ seems to them so normal: all that circulated before the council, the council has confirmed and is almost commonplace today. Many people today are hardly aware that the content was so new.

"To understand the originality of Vatican II, it is indispensable to look at the council and its documents in terms of the history and culture of that time. Vatican II has certainly shaped part of that history; but the other side is equally true: history and culture shaped Vatican II as well. Even though it is true that Vatican II is fully rooted in our Catholic tradition, it is equally true that it also launched a development and a deepening of that tradition, which here and there shows a discontinuity with past thinking and practices. Haven't many observed (like Karl Rahner, for instance) that the council marked the end of the Constantinian period in church history; and that Vatican II as a council ranks with Nicaea and Trent?

"The council had been prepared years in advance: the seed was already in the field and was already sprouting, when Pope John called for the council. The rays of sunshine from the council have brought growth and much fruit. Conciliar preparation was particularly apparent in the early liturgical movement, in biblical studies (modern exegetical studies), and a renewed focus on patristics. There was also the influence of Protestant thought and the new philosophy," Cardinal Danneels said.

"In contrast with the previous councils, which had usually been devoted to a particular theme, Vatican II addressed a broad variety of problems; and many issues were discussed, such as: the place of the organ in the Catholic liturgy, the continued value of Thomas Aquinas for theology, the relationship between Rome and local bishops, sexuality and marriage, and the church‐state relationship. And much more.

"If one takes a general overview, it is true that the main theme of the council has been: the value, the role, and responsibility of the laity in the Church in all domains. But very influential development was also the introduction of the vernacular in the liturgy. That seems like a small detail, but actually launched a great dynamic that impacted many other areas: the ability for instance to change things that for centuries had been seen as unchangeable. 

"Vatican II demonstrated that what was always thought and practised need not necessarily remain that way for eternity. Perhaps the introduction of the vernacular was the first application of Pope John XXIII's "aggiornamento", his bringing the church "up to date."

"A dynamic was set loose that far exceeded mere linguistic changes. Nothing seems to have had a greater impact than changing ancient liturgical traditions. Changes in cult and ritual touch very deeply the hearts of the believers. Of great importance as well was the repositioning of Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium as sources of revelation; and the integration of the new exegetical methods into the study of the Scriptures."


Ten ways Vatican II changed the Church

posted 27 Oct 2012, 01:18 by Stefan Gigacz

Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans, chairman of the US Bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship, has offered '10 Ways Vatican II Shapes the Church Today' to help Catholics appreciate the Council and how it relates to the Year of Faith, reports the Independent Catholic News. 

1. Vatican II presented a renewed vision of what it means to be the Church. The Council document Lumen Gentium on the nature of the Church called the Church a light for the world and the source of salvation. The document Gaudium et Spes on the Church in the modern world said the Church shares the joys and sufferings of the world. Both documents refer to the Church as the People of God, reflecting a new appreciation of lay people that surfaced repeatedly at the Council.

2. It called the Eucharist the source and summit of the faith. The Council’s document on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, describes Holy Communion as the main source of God’s grace for Catholics. In the Eucharist, Catholics encounter the person of Christ. In this way, it is truly the foundation of the Church.

3. It reformed the liturgy. The changes to the Mass, perhaps the most well-known conciliar reform, promoted “full and active participation,” which led to the Mass being translated into the vernacular, or local language, and celebrated as a dialogue between the celebrant and the congregation.

4. It said every Catholic is called to holiness and to be a missionary. The document on missionary activity, Ad Gentes, expanded the view of how the Church evangelizes. Missionaries were no longer sent just to remote areas of the world to spread the Good News; now all Catholics play a role in evangelizing through their lives.

5. It emphasized the importance of the family. According to Lumen Gentium, the family is the “Domestic Church.” While the faith of the Church flourishes in parishes, dioceses and nations around the world, before all else is the family. It is the family that provides a strong foundation for each believer.

6. It reshaped the Church’s relationship with other Christians and other religions. At Vatican II, the Church adopted a spirit of respect and dialogue toward other faith traditions. Ensuing dialogues have built bridges of understanding and strengthened relationships with Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims, Protestants and others.

7. It promoted collaboration. The document Christus Dominus encouraged “collegiality,” or collaboration within the Church. Bishops, priests, religious and lay people all work together in a way that didn’t in the past. Bishops collaborate through episcopal conferences like the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and state-level Catholic Conferences. The Council also encouraged “subsidiarity,” by which authority is divided up and decisions are made at the appropriate level.

8. It updated the Church… John XXIII saw Vatican II as a chance for renewal in the face of the “signs of the times” and said he called the Council to open a window and let in fresh air. This resulted in reforms that made the Church more accessible to the modern world, such as Mass in the vernacular and dialogue with other believers, and the openness of the Council was reflected in the presence men and women religious, lay people and even non-Catholics among its official observers.

9. …but it also returned the Church to its roots. Vatican II also reformed the Church through a back-to-basics approach. This meant renewed appreciation for Scripture, the Church Fathers and the restoration of ancient traditions such as the permanent diaconate and the multi-step process for adults joining the Church.

10. Then-Father Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) played a significant behind-the-scenes role. The bishops at Vatican II were assisted by brilliant theologians. These assistants, or periti, included Joseph Ratzinger, who assisted Cardinal Josef Frings of Cologne, Germany. Father Ratzinger was involved in drafting speeches, shaping documents and defining the overall trajectory of the Council.


New book recalls the women of Vatican II

posted 2 Aug 2012, 15:30 by Stefan Gigacz

Italian writer Adriana Valerio has just published a new book, Madri del Concilio. Ventitré donne al Vaticano II (Mothers of the Council. Twenty three women at Vatican II).

The 23 women were present, summoned on 8 September 1964 as auditors by Paul VI, and thus they were shaped by an adverb, which limited their work but perhaps increased their responsibility: “symbolically”, Cristiani Dobner writes in L'Osservatore Romano.

"We owe many thanks to the Pope who succeeded in breaking the age-old barrier even if these women were confined to a modest role, deliberately modest, because a numerous and qualified offspring was born from this initiative," says Dobner. "The split took place, the fruits continued to blossom."

"These women/mothers mark the watershed between two conceptions of women: one which relegates her to household tasks and low-profile help and the other, which takes into consideration all of her potential for intelligence and care, understood as it was understood by the patroness of Europe Edith Stein, who was able to listen and know how to welcome others."

Mothers of Vatican II (Osservatore Romano)

Fr Komonchak on the history of Vatican II

posted 17 Feb 2012, 23:14 by Stefan Gigacz

Well known historian Fr Joseph A. Komonchak has made available a number of essays providing some of the background to Vatican II.

Background to Vatican II – 1

Vatican II: The more remote background

A guide to reading up on Vatican II

posted 26 Aug 2011, 00:32 by Stefan Gigacz

"I had reason and occasion to educate myself about Vatican II during the past year and a half while working on a book, and I found it a tremendously affirming, stimulating, and inspiring exercise," writes Ken Trainor at US Catholic.

"With the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II looming next year (October 11, 2012), everyone has just enough time to rediscover this long-ignored and/or taken-for-granted council.

"In fact, I urge all Catholics--conservative, moderate and progressive--to read up on this amazing convocation, called by many the most important religious event of the 20th century. I think you’ll find it has much to say to us still, not just in the documents themselves, but in the actions that produced those documents. There is much, much more to the story of Vatican II than the documents themselves, though more conservative Catholics will try to tell you otherwise," Trainor argues pointing to a list of valuable books for reading up on Vatican II.


One man's guide to reading on Vatican II (US Catholic)

Pope John's secretary recalls the 'four pillars' of Vatican II

posted 10 Aug 2011, 19:04 by Stefan Gigacz

Recalling the announcement of Vatican II by Pope John XXIII, Bishop Loris Capovilla, who was the pontiff's personal secretary, has outlined what he calls "the four pillars" of the Council.

“We know today more than ever who we are and where we are going (Lumen Gentium), what language we should speak and what message we should convey (Dei verbum), how much and how hard we should pray (Sacrosanctum concilium), what attitude we should adopt towards the problems and tragedies of contemporary humanity (Gaudium et spes),” Bishop Capovilla, 95, said on the 52nd anniversary of the announcement of the Council, CNA reports.

“These are the four pillars that sustain the building of renewed pastoral ministry and encourage us to listen to God’s voice, to speak to God as his children, and that oblige us to dialogue with all the components of the human family,” he concluded.

Bishop Loris Capovilla also described how the media announced the Council before Pope John had a chance to inform the cardinals, according to an article published Jan. 25 by L’Osservatore Romano.

He noted that the then-Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Domenico Tardini, wrote the following on his calendar for Jan. 20, 1959: “Important audience. Yesterday afternoon His Holiness spent time in reflection and set in stone the agenda for his pontificate. He came up with three ideas: a Roman Synod, an Ecumenical Council (Vatican II) and an update of the Code of Canon Law. He wants to announce these three things next Sunday to the cardinals after the ceremony for the feast of St. Paul.”

Bishop Capovilla said on that Sunday, Jan. 25, 1959, the Pope got up and prayed, but after celebrating Mass, “He remained kneeling longer than usual.”

He then went to the ceremony for the feast of St Paul at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. The ceremony ran longer than scheduled, and before he could announce the convening of Vatican II, the press embargo on the announcement expired. The council was then “broadcast by the media before the Pope could communicate it to the cardinals,” the article said.

The Pope still addressed the Roman Curia, “with trembling and a bit of excitement,” about his plans to hold “a twofold celebration: a diocesan synod for the city and an ecumenical council for the universal Church.”

Bishop Capovilla said the council was given three clear directives: to promote interior renewal among Catholics, to raise awareness among Christians of the reality of the Church and of the tasks she is charged with carrying out, and to call on bishops, with their priests and the laity, to assume responsibility for the salvation of all mankind.

The bishop said that 52 years after announcing the council and 46 years after its conclusion in 1965, four Popes have continually emphasized that it was “an event willed by God” and led by “an old man who rejuvenated the Church” at a time when many thought John XXIII was going to be a “transitional Pope.”

“If Vatican II has not yet achieved its goals, this means that our conversion is a task yet to be fulfilled,” he added.


Personal secretary of John XXIII recounts Vatican II announcement (Catholic News Agency)

Comblin reflects on Vatican II

posted 7 Aug 2011, 04:54 by Stefan Gigacz

In this article, Vatican II: 50 years later, the late Father Jose Comblin reflects on the Council.

The history of the reception of Vatican II was determined by a totally unexpected event. 1968 is a symbolic date for the greatest cultural revolution in the history of the West, greater than the French Revolution or the Russian Revolution, because it affected all life values and all social structures. In 1968, there was much more than a student protest. There was the beginning of a new value system and a new interpretation of human life.

Vatican II responded to questions and challenges of western society in 1962. The issues addressed, the proposed answers, discussions on church structures, ideas about liturgical reform, had all been prepared by theologians and pastoralists, especially since the 30s in the Central European countries -- France, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, and the fringes of northern Italy. European society, destroyed by war, was rebuilt and the church occupied a prominent place in society. It was the government in Germany, Italy, Belgium, Holland and it had an interest in the government of France. In fact, it had lost touch with the working class, but the latter was already declining numerically because of the evolution of the economy towards services. The number of practicing Catholics was declining, but not so as to attract attention. The church had a faithful clergy, sufficiently enlightened bishops, although not very social reformist, but identified with the Christian Democrat parties. The great problem of the Church was the tension between the sectors most committed to the new society and the Roman world of Pius XII, supported by the Churches of the least developed and most traditional countries such as Spain, Portugal, Latin America, Italy -- especially south of Florence, and the Catholic peoples of Southeast Europe. The problems were structural and neither dogma nor traditional morality was enough.

In 1968, a total revolution began abruptly that affected all dogmas and all traditional morality as well as all the institutional structures of the Church and society as a whole. In 1968, Vatican II would have been impossible because there would have been no one or hardly anyone to understand what was happening. Vatican II responded to the problems of 1962, but had nothing to respond to the challenges of 1968. In 1968, the Council would have been a conservative Council frightened by the radical cultural transformations that were beginning.

- Jose Comblin (Translated by Rebel Girl)


Vatican II: Fifty years later
(Iglesia Descalza)

This text was published posthumously in “A Cincuenta años del Concilio Vaticano II: verdaderas luces y urgentes desafíos”, Alternativas – Revista de análisis y reflexión teológica, no. 41, 2011, Editorial Lascasiana, Managua, Nicaragua, pp. 11-24.

What future for Vatican II

posted 7 Aug 2011, 02:36 by Stefan Gigacz

Thomas Worcester, S.J., a Professor of History at the College of the Holy Cross, and a specialist in religious and cultural history
, recalls the impact of Vatican II in a piece for the Huffington Post.

For Catholics in the U.S. and elsewhere another significant anniversary is on the horizon: that of the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council in 1962. How it is remembered -- or not remembered -- may be very important for the Catholic Church in the coming decades. Do this in remembrance of me: Catholic worship is centered on ritual remembrance of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Absolutely central to Catholic practice is this remembrance, and Catholics are also a people of tradition: we say that we value what has been handed on over the centuries, from the early church to today. Anniversaries offer a special way in which traditions may be once again received and celebrated.

Public anniversaries are distinguished from family and personal events such as birthdays or anniversaries of marriage or ordination. But even the public anniversaries are also experienced in individual and personal ways. Seen in the light of 2,000 years of Christianity, Vatican II remains quite a recent event, within the lifetimes of older Catholics. Those in their mid-fifties or older will have personal memories of the Council -- at least of how it was reported by the press -- and of its aftermath, and these memories may be revivified by the 50th anniversary.

- Thomas Worcester SJ


What future for Vatican II? (Huffington Post)


Loyola University Chicago

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