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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."

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