An Overview of Vatican II

(This is the first of several articles I will be posting concerning the documents of Vatican II. I want to thank tradcat4christ for motivating me to analyze these documents; and so I will, commenting on several of them.)

The Second Vatican Council was called together by Pope John XXIII on October 11, 1962, and closed by Pope Paul VI on December 8, 1965. The Council was the twenty first ecumenical council of the Catholic Church, and the second to be held at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

Pope John XXIII announced on January 5, 1959, at a prayer service at the Basilica of St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls, that there was to be a Church Council. Although enthusiastic at the idea of a Council, the Pope was somewhat vague on the reasons for calling it together. After all, councils were historically formed in time of emergency, and this council was called in a time of peace. In his homily, he mentioned the Council’s goal to promote Christian unity, and also the cause of “affirming doctrine” and “ordering discipline”. John spoke of the Church responding to God’s presence shown through the “signs of the times”. He said that Christians should not fear the developments taking place in history, because some of them “augur well for the fate of the church and humanity”.

John described his want of modernization of the Church in the “signs of the times” with the Italian word “aggiornamento” meaning “updating”. This “updating” became the principle of the Second Vatican Council. It appears to be the direct opposite principle held since the Fourth Lateran Council: “Men must be changed by religion; not religion by men.” While the principle set forth by the Fourth Lateran Council stated that religion (Catholicism) cannot be changed to suit the wants and conveniences of man, aggiornamento called for a change in the Church, that it might be “relevant” in the world.

The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the Council’s first approved document (promulgated by Pope Paul IV, due to Pope John XXIII’s death prior to the conclusion of the Council) , formally presented the goals of Vatican II:

“This sacred Council has several aims in view: it desires to impart an ever increasing vigor to the Christian life of the faithful; to adapt more suitably to the needs of our own times those institutions which are subject to change; to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ; to strengthen whatever can help to call the whole of mankind into the household of the Church. The Council therefore sees particularly cogent reasons for undertaking the reform and promotion of the liturgy.”

In explanation and teaching of these goals, the Second Vatican Council published 15 other documents following the Constitution on the Liturgy; documents dealing with ecumenism, non-Christian religions, adaptation of religious orders, and other subjects.

In an upcoming post, I would like to take a look at the Decree on Ecumenism.



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