Over the last few evenings, I’ve been watching a ten-part series about the Second Vatican Council, which took place at the Vatican between 1962 and late 1965, spanning four sessions in the autumn of each of those years.
The Council, convoked by Pope John XXIII, was intended to be a new springtime for the Church. He commented that he wanted to ‘open the windows of the Church’ and let the fresh air in; I read a comment the other day which noted that as well as achieving this, opening the windows had one other effect – it allowed those inside to hear what was going on outside. In his opening address, the Holy Father expressed his hope –
“Illumined by the light of this Council, the Church, we trust, will grow in heavenly riches and, drawing from it the strength of new energies, will look to the future without fear.. that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be more effectively defended and presented”
And so the entire raison d’être of the Council was to take the Church forward and, while maintaining it’s integrity and doctrine, to make it suitable to face a world which had changed enormously.
Over the course of the Council, sixteen documents were promulgated, four of them having the ‘rank’ of ‘Apostolic Constitutions’ – ‘Sacrosanctum Concilium’ (on the Sacred Liturgy), ‘Lumen Gentium’ (on the Church herself), ‘Dei Verbum’ (on Divine Revelation) and ‘Gaudium Et Spes’ (on the Church in the modern world).
My sense is that the Holy Spirit was very active throughout the Council and that the resulting documents were both inspired and prophetic in nature.
Although I studied the documents of Vatican II many years ago, I have forgotten much of what I knew then and so the series has been a great reminder of the intentions of the Council Fathers. To further reacquaint myself, I also bought a book (‘What Happened At Vatican II’ – John O’Malley) which deals with the subject in much greater depth.
After all of this, what strikes me most is that the Council was indeed the greatest event in Church history of the last one hundred years – a huge event, whose impact is still being felt and whose effects are still being worked out.
Amongst these are the place of the laity within the Church and the universal call to holiness, as well as a return to Scripture for all and a deepening of our love of and dependence on the Word of God.
I note, with a smile, that the pontificate of our Holy Father Pope Francis is very much in alignment with the intentions and hopes of the Council. This is perhaps seen most clearly at present in his desire for ‘synodality’ within the Church – a de-centralisation of power away from Rome and placing it back in the hands of the local Churches and the Bishops of dioceses.
I see, too, that the Holy Father’s (and the Council’s) vision of the Church in the present day and the future, is not universally shared or even accepted by some within the Church. That is a great pity, as the Church is a living thing and without forward movement and interior regeneration and growth, she is likely to become less relevant to the world around her.
And so I will continue to re-familiarise myself with the workings of this great Council and all that she intended, expressed in so many prophetic documents; and I will use these as a basis for moving forward myself.