HAPPY BIRTHDAY VATICAN II
May you live long in our theology and church life!
Pope John XXIII gave notice of his intention to convene the Second Vatican Council on 25 January 1959, less than three months after his election in October 1958. Members of the Curia Romana began to fear that John was up to no good! In discussions before the Council, Pope John often said that it was time to open the windows of the Church to let in some fresh air. He said the old church needed updating. Aggiornamento was the word he used. And John invited Christians outside of the Catholic Church to send observers to the Council.
Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council on 11 October 1962 in a public session and read the declaration Gaudet Mater Ecclesia before the Council Fathers. In this opening address, he rejected the thoughts of “prophets of doom who are always forecasting disaster” in the world and in the future of the Church.
The Pope stressed a pastoral, not a doctrinal, focus for the Council: The Church did not need to repeat or reformulate existing doctrines and dogmas; but rather it had to teach Christ’s message in the light of the modern world’s ever-changing trends. In other words, Pope John said the church need not fear the secular world, because it is in the secular world that we encounter the living God.
John exhorted the Council Fathers “to use the medicine of mercy rather than the weapons of severity” in the documents they would produce.
And today………..Fifty years after the Second Vatican Council revolutionized life inside our Roman Catholic Church, nearly three hundred bishops from around the world are gathered in Rome to remember the Council and to confront what they see as an external threat to the church and Christian Faith: secularization.
The Synod of Bishops on the “New Evangelization” brings together 262 church leaders for a three-week summit at the Vatican, joined by lay experts and representatives of other Christian groups.
Setting the tone for the bishops’ discussion, Washington DC’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl called on Christians to “overcome the syndrome of embarrassment” about their faith with a more assertive offense against the “tsunami of secular influence” that is sweeping away “marriage, family, the concept of the common good and objective right and wrong.”
Donald Wuerl has been appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to be the “Relator General” of the Synod, with the key task of summing up the main points of the bishops’ discussions. What I find so remarkable about Wuerl is his nearly total distortion of the message and impact of Vatican II. While Vatican II marked a moment of renewal and enthusiasm for the church, Wuerl said, it was followed by decades of poor teaching and substandard worship — “aberrational liturgical practice,” he called it — that made “entire generations” of Catholics incapable of transmitting the faith to their children and to society at large, ushering in today’s secularized society.
So now we know what happened. All contemporary church and societal problems are the fault of the Second Council! ……
Wuerl of course is wrong. He can speak of a “tsunami of secular influence;” but he is blind and deaf to the sounds and sights of the credibility earthquake that he and other contemporary church leaders have inflicted on the church.
So, as we celebrate this special Vatican II anniversary year, let’s look at a few basic facts (not the whirlwind of Wuerl’s rhetoric)…….facts that enable us to evaluate the various interpretations, reinterpretations, misinterpretations, and misrepresentations that will be promulgated by regressive church authorities in the coming year.
(1) Vatican II was an ecumenical council, the latest of only twenty-one in the two-millennia history of the Church. It was not a sinister group of subversives out to destroy the church. As such, it was and is to be respected as a specially authoritative voice of the church.
(2) There are those of course, like Don Wuerl and sadly a number of other U.S. bishops, who try to make Vatican II something it wasn’t and who claim today that it has been grossly misinterpreted. Strangely, many of today’s negative “interpreters” are bishops who were there and voted on the documents that came out of the council. They oversaw the implementation of the council.
(3) When the bishops arrived for the Council, they found that members of the Curia (the Vatican bureaucrats who had rattled crosiers when Pope John announced the Council) had already tried to take control of the conciliar process. Note well: the majority of the Council fathers took control. They strongly defeated attempts by conservative Roman cardinals to steer Council deliberations and decisions in a conservative direction.
Pope Benedict has proclaimed a “Year of Faith” to remember Vatican II. So my friends, during this holy year, if you hear complaints about Vatican II and its stress on the church as the People of God, complaints about collegiality, warnings about a confident encounter with the “joys and hopes, the griefs and the anxieties” of people today, about respectful encounters with other religions, about public prayer marked by “full, conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations,” about reminders that “the revision of liturgical books should allow for legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups, regions and peoples”……. Yes, if you hear such complaints or grumbling about these things, remember that you know the facts; and since you know the facts, give the complainers the attention they deserve. None whatsoever.
Beware of Hierarchical Attempts at Rewriting Catholic History