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WASHINGTON—The Catholic Church marks the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council by Blessed Pope John XXIII on October 11. The Council ran from 1962-1965, producing 16 documents over the course of four sessions. Over 2,000 bishops from around the world participated. The Council introduced major reforms and stands among the most significant religious events of the 20th Century.
To honor this anniversary, as well
as the twentieth anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI called for a
Year of Faith, beginning October 11 and ending November 24, 2013, to strengthen
the faith of Catholics and draw the world to faith by their example. Archbishop
Gregory Aymond of New Orleans, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on
Divine Worship, offers “10 Ways Vatican II Shapes the Church Today” to help
Catholics appreciate the Council and how it relates to the Year of Faith:
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
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
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. More information on the Year of Faith is available online: www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/how-we-teach/new-evangelization/year-of-faith/index.cfm---
Keywords: Year of Faith, Vatican II, Second Vatican Council, Bishop Richard Malone, Evangelization and Catechesis, USCCB, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, liturgy, Eucharist, Mass, reform, Catholic Church, modern world
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