The Church of Vatican II

By Father Neil McCaulley for the Association of Pittsburgh Priests

The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men and women of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. -Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, December 7, 1965.

We have a sense of indebtedness to the bishops and popes of Vatican II and, of course, the Holy Spirit! A quick glance at the Catholic Church today shows us some of the fruits of the Council. The Constitution on Divine Revelation and also the Constitution on the Liturgy have given us an enormous increase in our exposure to the Holy Scripture as well as an emphasis on Biblical Spirituality. The Constitution on the Church gave us the name, The People of God along with the universal call to holiness. We are reminded that we are all equal in Baptism and that the laity have their own call to ministry. We have seen the ancient order of the Permanent Deaconate be reestablished and thrive. Likewise, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.

A more democratic church was called for, with the enormously important teaching on collegiality; the bishops of the world form a college that share with the pope as successors to the apostles (the servant leadership of the Church.) This counciliar model has spread to National Conferences and dioceses and parishes. The people of God are called to share in the leadership of the Church. The religious orders were called to rediscover their original charism. They did it with great dedication and set a model for the entire church.

Lay ministry has grown enormously. Tens of thousands of lay people, the majority of them women, have acquired advanced degrees in theology, catechesis, scripture, liturgy and canon law. These same people have entered the parish ministry on staffs as well as at the diocesan level.

We have seen the liturgy come alive in many parishes adapting to the local culture and language. Preaching has become more Biblical. People see the liturgy as sending them into their daily lives and the world to build the Kingdom of God. It is important to remember that good liturgy builds up Faith and bad liturgy tears it down. Also, participation is central to liturgical spirituality and its fruitfulness.

Although it was not on the original agenda, the Council fathers decided to make the logical step of producing a major constitution on the Church in the Modern World. As John XXIII hoped the Church “opened the windows” and let in fresh air. It came into the modern world by moving toward updating (“Aggiornamento”). It was a reform Council and a pastoral Council. It made it clear that the Jews are our spiritual parents and they were not responsible for the death of Christ. We all were. We began serious and continuing dialogue with our sister churches, the great world religions of the East and the secular world. They rejected the notion that “error has no rights” and embraced the concept of religious freedom. There are conflicts in the Church today (obviously!) but respect and civility can help us understand our differences.

One reason for this tribute is to honor the fruits of Vatican II. As we begin the celebration of the 50th anniversary we should be on guard against revisionism; an attempt to roll back Vatican II effects. We should not forget the unfinished business of the documents. As soon as the Council was ended some in the church began to oppose the Council and obstruct it. This even happened in the Curia, the Congregations of the Vatican. The Council in union with the pope is the highest teaching authority in the Church. The 16 documents of the Council stand. Become familiar with them again! Be inspired again!

Encourage your parish priest and council to have classes on the major themes of the Council to continue the beautiful work of renewal. We may have the loneliness of the long distance runner but Jesus says it’s worth it. Come! Follow me! Take the Gospel to the four corners of the world! Happy 50th Vatican Council II.