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Vatican II: Facing the 21st Century

Historical & Theological Perspectives

ISBN13: 9781847300126

ISBN10: 184730012X

Publisher: Veritas

Extent: 246 pages

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  • In the autumn of 2005, Mater Dei Institute of Education in Dublin hosted a series of Public Lectures on Vatican II to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the closure of the Council. Vatican II: Facing the 21st Century brings together the papers presented during this series. The intention is to communicate some of the content of the documents, and to offer some historical and theological perspectives on Vatican II as it faces the twenty-first century.
  • Brendan Leahy

    Brendan Leahy is professor of theology at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, and author of numerous publications. A von Balthasar scholar, he is involved in ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue. He is also Secretary of the Irish Bishops' Advisory Committee on Ecumenism.

    Dermot Lane

    Dermot A. Lane is Parish Priest of Balally in Dublin 16. He is retired President of Mater Dei Institute of Education, DCU. He is author of Stepping Stones to Other Religions: A Christian Theology of Inter-Religious Dialogue (2011) and Religion and Education: Reimagining the Relationship (2013) and editor of Vatican II in Ireland, Fifty Years on (2015).

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    The fortieth anniversary of the closure of the Second Vatican Council has been marked by a wide variety of publications offering personal reflections as well as evaluations of the Councils longer term significance from contemporary perspectives. vdtican II - Facing the 21st Century edited by Dermot
    A. Lane and Brendan Leahy marks an important addition to the narrative. Contributors include Bishop Michael Smith who helped compile the official record of the Council whose enthusiasm for Bl John XXIIIs project illuminates an eyewitness account which is both lively and instructive. Others such as Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Susan K. Roll, Jan Lambrecht SJ and Dermot A. Lane focus on the four main Constitutions of the Council, with additional perspectives to Jan Lambrechts analysis on Dei Verbum from Dr Tom Norris and Beate Kowalski.

    In the lengthiest chapter, Maura Hyland, with her own intimate and uniquely placed understanding of the process of change that has occurred in religious education, charts the demise of the catechism in schools following the Council and the emergence of the more child-centred programmes. She pays just tribute to the willingness of Irish bishops to respond to cultural change in catechetics by presciently resourcing new materials. Mauras conclusions and recommendations deserve serious consideration from all those concerned about religious education in Ireland today. M. Cecily Boulding OP reflects a little briefly perhaps on the ecumenical journey since the Council asking are we still in the desert? but her eventual reading is a more optimistic one though she doesnt shirk from the challenges ecumenists face. The intention of this publication was to renew interest in the vision of the Second Vatican Council and its ongoing relevance, and those willing to mull over this fine collection of essays should find much to inspire them forty years after the closure of Good Pope John XXIIIs project.

    - Fr Paul Clayton-Lea CC, Intercom

    This book is the gathering together of a series of public lectures given at the Mater Dei Institute to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Vatican II. It focuses on the four main documents of the Council and the speakers offer well researched comments and insights to the reader as to what the council sought to offer to the church and its future.

    The church has in many ways been slow to really take on the insights of the council fathers in many ways and is only now 40 years later beginning to open the documents and seek to implement new ways of being church.

    To this end this book offers easily accessible well written chapters that contain rich theological insights to the vision of the council. The chapters on Gaudium et Spes: The Church in the modern world (by Diarmuid Martin) and the following chapter on People, Synod and Upper Room: Vatican IIs Ecclesiology of Communion have much to offer any one seeking to look to the future of church and parish today. It would also offer background reading for anyone involved in setting up or leading a Parish Assembly or Parish Pastoral Council.

    The style does not require theological training as the writers draw together the history and background to what was happening in the church and the world as well as offering insights from the theologians of the time such as Congar and Rahner who had much to offer the council fathers. The chapters show how the world, the church and the theologians together influenced the discernment of the participants in the council.
    This text would make interesting reading for a parish book club to take and discuss together.

    - Karen Kent, Cork and Ross Pastoral Development


    Bishop Michael Smith

    I welcome this series of lectures being organised by Mater Dei Institute forty years after the end of the Second Vatican Council. I am honoured to be invited to begin the series with a personal recollection of that pivotal event in the life of the Church. Obviously one lecture could not even begin to touch on all aspects of the Council so I will confine myself to some of its key moments, as well as reflecting on the events which led up to the holding of the Council. In these I believe Divine Providence was very clearly at work. I certainly do not belong to those who feel that the Council was a mistake or even, as some have claimed, a disaster for the Church.

    I will begin by explaining how I can come here this evening sharing my personal recollections of the Council. Towards the end of 1961 the Rector of the Irish College asked if I would be willing to become involved in the group that was to be entrusted with the task of compiling the official record or Acta of the Council. This would involve learning Latin shorthand. I was then in my third theology year at the college studying at the Lateran University and obviously I didnt need to be asked twice. In all, forty-two students drawn from the seminaries in Rome were invited to take part, the majority of them Italian. We had a German teacher who had devised his own system of Latin shorthand, Dr Aloys Kennernecht.

    As well as following our normal course in the university we also attended classes most evenings at the Vatican. It was an interesting if demanding experience. In the end the group became twelve and with one or two changes this small group was present for all four years of the Council. While we did not have to attend every day, most of us did. Apart from the opportunity to take part in such a major event (only twenty councils had taken place in the previous 2,000 years) it was also a formative experience and an education not to be missed. My memory of that involvement is still very fresh and while it made extra demands on theological and post-graduate studies I have no regrets giving it that time.

    The first comment I would wish to share with you is my own strong belief that Divine Providence was deeply involved in the life of Blessed John XXIII and his project to hold a Council. This was manifested over many decades but it is only in hindsight that we can see with greater clarity the hand of God at work.

    The context and background
    On 25 January 1959 in St Pauls Outside the Wall Pope John XXIIIs announcement of his intention to call a General Council of the Church took everyone by surprise. At the same time, he announced his intention to hold a Synod of the Diocese of Rome and to prepare a new edition of the Code of Canon Law. Since then it has been accepted that the reaction of the cardinals present on that occasion was somewhat less than enthusiastic. This has been portrayed as an indication of their unhappiness with the Popes decision. However, there is another side to the story. Seldom has their reaction been placed in its proper context.

    The First Vatican Council came to a hurried end with Garibaldis army at the gates of Rome. The Council, with the strong encouragement of Blessed Pius IX, decided to give precedence to the decree on Papal Infallibility and complete it, leaving the other matters on the agenda for consideration at a later date. The assumption was that when things settled down again the Council could resume. This proved impossible in the immediate aftermath of the Council, given the political climate in the newly unified Italian State.

    Although the intention to resume the Council was not forgotten, Leo XIII, St Pius X and Benedict XV do not seem to have taken any action to fulfil this wish, whatever their desire might have been. Shortly after his election in 1922 Pius XI presided over the International Eucharistic Congress held in Rome at which over three hundred bishops were present. This prompted him to consider reconvening Vatican I. In December of 1922 he stated in an encyclical letter his wish to finish the Council begun by Blessed Pius IX. His intention was to convene the bishops of the Church in Rome in the Holy Year 1925. His first challenge was to find where the archives of the Council were stored.

    When eventually the room was identified the difficulty was then to find the key! When the room was opened the archives were found to be in a poor and disorganised state. He first had them catalogued and then set up a small group of four theologians to examine them in detail and come up with proposals.

    The experts, while leaning heavily in the direction of a Council condemning doctrinal errors, did propose that a reflection on the Church should be its primary focus. They also highlighted the need for an examination of the role of women in the Church and in society. In October 1923 all the bishops of the Church were consulted by letter on the appropriateness of reconvening the Council. Eighty per cent of the 1,165 cardinals and bishops canvassed replied by the deadline. The Pope personally read all the replies: well over half - 657 - agreed; 256 agreed, but with reservations; only 34 gave a negative response. Inevitably progress was slow and the target date of 1925 soon vanished. The large crowds that came to Rome for the Holy Year in 1925 also diverted attention from the proposal. At the end of the year Pius XI decided that priority should be given to finding a solution to the Roman Question - the relationship between the Holy See and Italy. While this issue was resolved in 1929 the rapidly changing political scene in Europe precluded further consideration of the proposal to reconvene Vatican I and the Pope did not return to the issue.

    The proposal resurfaced during the pontificate of Pius XII. Following a suggestion by Cardinal Ruffini to call a Council, Pius XII discussed the proposal with Cardinal Ottaviani, then Assessor at the Holy Office, in February 1948. Cardinal Ottaviani, who was to have a major role in preparing Vatican II, outlined many of the doctrinal and pastoral issues that merited consideration and gave the proposal qualified support. A fortnight later Cardinal Ottaviani gathered a group to discuss in detail the proposal to call a Council. It would seem from the records available that they were thinking at this stage of a new Council and not a reconvening of the unfinished Vatican I.

    For two years considerable work was done in preparation for a Council. Reflecting the climate of the time the emphasis was on doctrinal integrity, condemnation of error and on discipline in the Church. In 1949 Pius XII appointed a Central Preparatory Committee with a President and Secretary, some of whom - notably Fr Bea, later cardinal - were to play a prominent role in Vatican II. It is interesting that as secretary Pius XII chose Fr Peter Charles SJ, professor of dogmatic theology at Louvain: Louvain professors were to have a profound influence on Vatican II.

    A letter to be sent out to sixty-five selected bishops was drafted and redrafted many times but does not seem to have been sent. Again the emphasis in this letter, discussed at several meetings of the Preparatory Committee, leaned strongly towards discipline and condemnation of error. One good example of how detailed the discussion was is provided by the proposals on the age for ordination to the priesthood. It was proposed to fix the age for receiving sub-diaconate at twenty-four, followed by a two-year probationary period before diaconate, followed by another year before priesthood. Sub-diaconate, it was proposed, would not be received until theological studies were complete.

    As the work continued divisions arose between those proposing a short Council and those seeking the discussion of the many major challenges facing the Church, especially in the aftermath of the war and the impact of the Iron Curtain. There was also a major difference of emphasis between the proposals prepared by the theological and the scriptural committees. Another division centred on what focus the Council should have - a doctrinal or a pastoral Council. The divisions were deep and could not be resolved by the Preparatory Committee.

    In January 1951 the Committee decided to pass the problem to the Pope for resolution. The major illness he suffered shortly afterwards as well as other considerations meant that he never made a final decision and the matter was shelved. A number of the proposals that emerged in the preparatory work, primarily from the doctrinal committee, did find their way into documents and decisions made by Pius XII in following years, one example being the changes in the law on fasting before the reception of Holy Communion.

    Many of the cardinals and others who heard Blessed John XXIII state that he was going to call an Ecumenical Council of the Church had invested a great amount of time and energy in preparing for a Council under Pius XII. They could be forgiven for thinking Not again! A few, notably Cardinal Confalonieri who had been secretary to Pius XI, were also involved in the effort made in the early 1920s. It was Cardinal Confalonieri who presided at the funeral Mass for Pope John Paul I.

    While Blessed John XXIII would have been aware of the work carried out in the early 1920s in response to Pius Xls initiative, statements made by people who were very close to him suggest that when he made his announcement he was unaware of the more detailed work carried out some years previously under Pius XII. His own version was that the idea came to him in prayer and he shared it with Cardinal Tardini, who warmly welcomed the proposal. He discussed it with very few, obviously deciding it was best to make his decision public and then deal with the problems and issues that would arise.

    Had the initiative of Pius XI or that of Pius XII come to fruition it would have been a very different Council. Pope John did not share the outlook or understanding they brought to their own counciliar project. It was to be pastoral and ecumenical, it was to reach out to the world rather than adopt a defensive posture, it was to be short on condemnation and strong on proclaiming the fullness of the Gospel. With hindsight it is easy to see the hand of the Lord at work in his life, preparing him to launch this initiative on an unsuspecting Church. His opening address to the Council, which repays reading forty-three years later, only serves to emphasise how deeply Divine Providence was at work in his life.

    The Council hall and the Irish contribution
    The preparation for the Council brought out the best in Italian flair and genius. While the many commissions worked away at preparing the draft documents, others had to deal with the enormous logistical demands involved. As so often happens on such occasions gifted people surfaced. One such was Dr Francesco Vacchini, who designed the Council Hall in St Peters, giving each bishop his own seat with a writing desk (over 2,500 in all) and making provision for all the ancillary services, including our small group. It worked like a dream with perfect acoustics and no real hitches over the four years. I was in the hall about a week before the opening of the Council and one wondered how it could possibly be ready in time. On the day all was in place.

    The appointment of Archbishop Felici was an inspired choice. He was a person of strong personality but also of great competence. He was a gifted Latin scholar who occasionally, when making the announcements at the start of each working day, recited one of his newly composed Latin poems, in the process testing our limited skill in Latin shorthand.

    In all there were four periods of the Council with 168 sessions over the years 1962 to 1965, each held in the autumn and lasting around two months. In truth one could say there were three periods with one preparatory period. Given the very large number involved it was inevitable that it would take time for the Council to find its feet. Pope John wisely kept rules for procedure to the minimum and major adjustments were made between the first and second period. If the new rules of procedure, adopted after the experience of the first session, had been imposed from the beginning, especially that governing the closure of debate on individual topics, the Roman Curia would have been accused of trying to stifle debate. Pope John had learned well from his studies of previous Councils.

    Overall the Irish contribution to the Council was disappointing. The submissions sent in by the individual bishops were largely in the area of law and discipline and there is no record in the minutes of the Bishops Conference, from the date of its announcement to its opening, of the Council being discussed at meetings. The contribution made by the bishops during the first period of the Council to the debates makes this clear. Two short speeches (one lasting two minutes and the other five) were made by Archbishop McQuaid of Dublin in the name of all the bishops (Cardinal Dalton was then ill and died shortly after the end of this first period). These were made during the debate on the Liturgy. Neither made an impact on the final text.

    Bishop Philbin did, however, make his own valuable contributions during the course of the Council, as did Cardinal Conway when he succeeded Cardinal Dalton. I will return to one of Bishop Philbins contributions later. One disappointing feature of the Irish contribution was that little effort was made by the bishops to inform the people about what was taking place. They perhaps took more seriously than others the secrecy attaching to the discussions in the Council Hall. The same was true of the minimal support given to the Irish media representatives present in Rome. One national newspaper sent out a very senior staff member. Towards the end of the first period he commented that he considered his efforts over the two months as his biggest failure as a journalist. It was an opportunity lost.

    Secrecy in fact went out the window from the beginning of the second session. The office looking after the interests of the American bishops decided to print in English a daily summary of all the talks given in the Council Hall that day. Since the texts of the talks were in our office a few of us along with a number of American periti (experts in theology, scripture, canon law etc.) became involved in this exercise. This Council Digest as it was called was made available that same evening to any English-speaking bishops that requested it. By the time the fourth session came around over 2,000 copies were made available each day to bishops from every country.

    What I have said up to now is seeking to place the Council in its context. Pope John had learned wisely from history and he was clear in his own mind that once the bishops were in Rome the Council would over time find its feet. He had no fear that it would go astray, as he had a deeply held belief in the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He even remarked on one occasion that he expected differences and difficulties to arise but was confident that in the end all would be fine.

    During his time in the diplomatic service he was left for many years in Bulgaria and Turkey, neither demanding posts. It was during this time that he involved himself in a study of the Council of Trent and its implementation in the dioceses in Northern Italy, especially his own native diocese of Bergamo. He was very familiar with the previous councils of the Church and knew that his council would echo previous experience. A good example is found in what happened to the preparatory work. In total, over seventy documents were prepared for debate and discussion. Between the end of the first session and the beginning of the second these were reduced to less that twenty, reflecting the clear wishes of the Council. The same happened to the documents prepared for the First Vatican Council.

    A few of the key days
    It would be impossible in a short talk to do justice to what was a major event in the life of the Church, an event that will influence the mission of the Church over centuries. I will just mention a few of the key days that gave the Council direction and focus.

    The most important of all these was the opening day and especially the homily preached by Pope John on that occasion. It is worth quoting some of it:

    In the daily exercise of our pastoral office, we sometimes have to listen, much to our regret, to voices of persons who, though burning with zeal, are not endowed with too much sense of discretion or balance. In these modern times they can see nothing but prevarication and ruin. They say that our era, in comparison with past eras, is getting worse, and they behave as though they had learned nothing from history, which is, none the less, the teacher of life. They behave as though at the time of former Councils everything was a full triumph for the Christian idea and life and for proper religious liberty. We feel we must disagree with those prophets of gloom, who are always forecasting disaster, as though the end of the world was at hand. In the present order of things, Divine Providence is leading us to a new order of human relations which, by mens own efforts and even beyond their very expectations, are directed toward the fulfilment of Gods superior and inscrutable designs. And everything, even human differences, leads to the greater good of the Church.

    It is a passage that underlines Pope Johns deep trust in Divine Providence, displays a clear understanding of history and seeks to place the Council in that historical context. He was also making clear that he was not for turning. The homily had an enormous impact on all who had gathered for the Council as it set out clearly what was expected of them. It would be fair to say that its content surprised many of the bishops.

    Each day began with Mass and the enthronement of the Book of the Gospels. Pope John had appointed ten Presidents who took it in turn to preside over the daily sessions. They were not very effective and in a classical Italian move before the start of the second period Pope Paul increased their number to twelve and took most of their power away, handing over the daily chairing of the sessions to four moderators. However, two of the presidents did use their position on the first day of business to place a proposal before the bishops. Cardinal Frings of Cologne and Cardinal Lienart of Lille both suggested that the Council not meet for a few days to allow bishops to get to know one another. The agenda for that day had included voting for the membership of the Commissions that would have responsibility for the drafting of the decrees of the Council. Their proposal was accepted and that first day turned out to be the shortest working day of the Council. The few days of lobbying and consultation that followed undoubtedly had a major impact on the membership of the Commissions and, through them, on the documents that emanated from the Council.

    Another day that had a major influence on the future direction of the Council was the 14 November - the beginning of the debate on the document on Scripture and Tradition. The debate on this document was led by eleven cardinals and one patriarch (cardinals had precedence when it came to speaking). The customary rush at mid-morning to the two coffee bars in St Peters was absent that day. Only one of the speakers defended the text and one gave it qualified support. The rest were trenchant in their criticism. The document was discussed over five days and the tone did not change. A vote was taken: 1,368 voted against the text, 822 voted in favour and there 19 spoiled votes. A two thirds majority was needed to replace a text and it was announced that the debate would continue. However, Pope John intervened and appointed a special commission to prepare a new text. There were two Irish scripture scholars involved in this exercise, Cardinal Michael Browne OP, and Fr Alexander Kerrigan, an Irish Franciscan who spent his life in Rome, lecturing in scripture and working in the Curia.

    The debate on this text also gave rise to another important intervention. This was made by Bishop de Smedt of Belgium in the name of the Secretariat of Christian Unity, headed by the highly respected Jesuit, Cardinal Bea. This set out the ecumenical guidelines that had to be respected in formulating all Council documents. It was greeted by warm applause and few doubted that the content of this intervention had been cleared with Pope John before it was delivered in the Council Hall.

    An even more important intervention was that of Cardinal Suenens of Brussels on 3 December 1962. The debate had already begun on the document on the Church. Cardinal Suenens proposed that there was a need for two documents, one a reflection on the Church ad intra and the other ad extra if the Council was to be faithful to the mandate given it by Pope John. It later emerged that this intervention was prepared in consultation with Cardinal Montini, later Pope Paul VI, and Pope John. Cardinal Montini had kept a very low profile during this first session, gossip suggesting this was on the instructions of Pope John. He worked very closely with the Pope during this period and there is little doubt that Pope John would have seen him as his obvious successor and the one who would bring the Council to completion. Though different in personality they were very close in spirit and shared the same vision.

    At the end of the session it was decided to take up this proposal, the outcome of which produced the two foundation documents on the Council: one on the Church (Lumen gentium) and the other on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et spes). Providence was at work here as well, as one of those who became deeply involved in the preparation of the document on the Church in the Modern World was the young Archbishop of Cracow, Archbishop Wojtyla. Another who worked on this document was Father (later cardinal) Yves Congar, the French Dominican theologian. In his Journal of the Council, Fr Congar made this interesting observation of Archbishop Woytyla in February 1965: Woytyla makes a big impression. His personality imposes itself. It shines forth with a mysterious power, an attraction, a certain prophetic power that is very calm but indisputable. The content of this document on the Church in the Modern World was the quarry from which Pope John Paul drew so much of his teaching as Pope.

    There is an interesting Irish angle to this proposal. Bishop Philbin was listed to speak in his own name. Since cardinals had precedence he was down the list and did not get his opportunity until three days later, 6 December. He would have prepared and submitted his text some days in advance. While his text lacked the clarity and conciseness of Cardinal Suenenss presentation, he made the same proposal. He would have suggested that there be two parts to the one document, rather than two separate documents. Given this contribution and others he made to the Council it is easy to conclude that the Irish bishops made a serious mistake in not asking him to oversee their preparation for the Council and their input into the discussion and drafting of the texts.

    Obviously there were many other special moments during that first session that impacted on the development of the Council. I will just mention one, since it underlined how closely Pope John was following all that happened. He did not attend the daily sessions but followed many of them on close-circuit television. Lacking an effective closure procedure the debate on the Liturgy became very repetitious. A number of bishops had come to the Council intent on speaking. One such was Bishop Cule of Mostar in Yugoslavia. His talk did not address the particular section of the decree on the Liturgy that was being discussed but focused on his wish to have St Josephs name included in the Canon of the Mass.

    Cardinal Ruffini was chairing this session - by far the most effective chairman among the ten Presidents - and soon lost patience. He thanked him for his most pious sermon and asked him to conclude. He ignored this request and Cardinal Ruffini asked him a second time. By this stage there was much amusement in the hall. He ignored him again and on the third occasion the Cardinal cut off his microphone. While the exchange may have amused the bishops in the hall it annoyed Pope John. He knew the bishop and knew that he had been imprisoned and tortured by the Nazis and having survived this received the same treatment from the communists when they took over. His torture and imprisonment caused deafness and he did not hear the requests asking him to finish. A few days later the Pope ordered the inclusion of St Joseph in the Canon of the Mass.

    While many of these key moments occurred in the first session of Council there were also notable days in the remaining sessions. By the start of the second session in the autumn of 1963 there was a new Pope, Paul VI, the procedural rules and the chairing of the Council had been radically changed, the number documents for discussion at the Council greatly reduced and there was much greater clarity about where it was heading.

    One poignant moment was the day Archbishop Slipyj addressed the Council. As Archbishop of the Greek Catholic Church in the Ukraine he had spent twenty years in a Soviet gulag, the Church having been suppressed by the Communist regime in Russia. Pope John had secured his release. He spoke at length as, I suppose, he was entitled to do having been silent for so long. The content of his talk, however, caused great unease as he was pleading that a new Patriarchate be established for the Greek-Catholic Church in Ukraine. It was fascinating to watch the impassive faces of the observers from the Russian Orthodox Church during this talk. The tribune of the Observers from the other Churches was close to our own desk. .

    One of the finest of all the presentations made during the course of the Council was that made by Archbishop Parente on Chapter 3 of the Constitution on the Church, the chapter that dealt with collegiality. He was speaking on behalf of the Commission for Doctrine. His ease and fluency in Latin (a generation of Irish College students would have had him as their lecturer in dogmatic theology at the Lateran University) and the clarity of his presentation made a major impact on this debate. His successor as professor of dogmatic theology in the Lateran, Mgr Piolanti, himself a brilliant lecturer, called this the great betrayal .

    Another fascinating day centred on the debate on the decree on Religious Liberty, a contentious topic. When Archbishop Felici, the Secretary General, announced that discussion on this text was being postponed to the following year a real rumpus started in the Council Hall. Petitions to the Pope were handed around and over 1,000 signatures gathered in a couple of hours. Three cardinals then marched off around mid-day to meet with the Pope asking that this decision be reversed. The discussion on the draft text took place the following year as they discovered Pope Paul was not for changing. The final document was much the better for this delay, as many bishops, not least those from Eastern Europe who had suffered so much for the Church and had their freedom to practice their faith removed, were unhappy with the overly American content and context of the text.

    A few observations
    I will end with just a few observations. An event like an Ecumenical Council needs to find people of special charisms and talents if it is to succeed. This was certainly true of the periti (experts in theology, scripture, canon law etc.) appointed to be part of the Council process. Some of the more notable names, such as Fr Hans Kung and Fr Karl Rahner, made little or no contribution to the drafting and constant redrafting of the texts. It was backbreaking work and those most involved worked very long hours. The three most notable in this respect were Mgr Gerard Philips, Louvain, Fr Yves Congar OP, France and Fr Henri de Lubac SJ, Switzerland. It is interesting to note that an encyclical letter entitled Humani Generis (False Trends in Modern Teaching) published by Pius XII in 1950 was interpreted as censuring both Fr Congar and Fr De Lubac. Both were appointed cardinals later in life.

    As I said earlier, if the Council Pius XII was planning had taken place it would have been a very different experience for the Church both then and since. It is good that Fr Congar in his Journal of the Council speaks of Mgr Philips as the father of the Council, a tribute well merited since his input into the final documents was enormous. Sadly the workload he had to carry undermined his health and he died a couple of years after the end of the Council.

    One regrettable aspect of the Council was the tendency to report its proceedings in simplistic terms - dividing the bishops into liberal (good) and conservative (bad). Many of the commentaries published in its immediate aftermath fell into this trap, as indeed did some prominent periti who preferred to spend their time speaking to media and others rather than becoming involved in its demanding and painstaking work. It was a distortion of what took place at the Council. One conclusion I came to from observing the scene over the four years was that those who professed themselves liberal and progressive were much more rigid in their views and generally deaf to the arguments that the conservatives made. I am not too sure that much has changed in this regard both within the Church and in society.

    The final comment I would offer is that the great interpreter of the Council was the late Pope John Paul. In the immediate aftermath of the Council there were many contending voices on what the Council meant for the Church. When people did not find support in the documents they appealed to the spirit of the Council, that being whatever they wished to make it. Pope John Paul put the documents of the Council at the heart of his teaching as Pope, recognising that its influence on the life and mission of the Church will be felt for many decades and even centuries to come. It was in truth a gift to the Church.

    It needed a holy man, Blessed John XXIII, of courage and determination to bring it into being. Over the five days he lay dying worldwide attention was focused on him. Before he died he offered his suffering and death for the Church and for the successful completion of the Council. This offering made it incumbent on his successor to continue the project. In Pope Paul VI the Church found a Pope totally committed to the Council, one endowed with acute theological expertise and a painstaking attention to detail that enabled him to successfully complete the task.

    We can easily overlook that this was the first Council that drew its membership from every corner of the world. It articulated teaching on the Churchs self-understanding, the Church at prayer, the fulfilment of the mandate of Christ to proclaim the Gospel to all nations, the outreach to other Churches and other Faiths, the proclamation of Gospel values on belief, on life, on peace etc. It was truly a gift to the Church that over time will be viewed as a major watershed in its life.

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Vatican II: Facing the 21st Century

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