What Did It Say?
Vatican Council II:
The most important religious event of the 20th century.
It was opened on Oct 11, 1962, by Pope John XXIII, and was closed on Dec
by Pope Paul VI. It released 16 documents which were:
The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council Dedicated to
Sweet is the Providence that Overrules Us." Seton
Opened Under Pope John XXIII in 1962
Closed by Pope Paul VI in 1965
+ Jesus - Mary - Joseph +
"I am aware that I owe this to God...as the chief duty of my life...
That my every word and thought may speak of Him...", St. Hillary
VATICAN COUNCIL, THE SECOND:
*AN ASSESSMENT OF THIS COUNCIL
*PREPARATION FOR THE COUNCIL
*THE COUNCIL OPENS
*THE COUNCIL AND THE LITURGY
*THE SACRIFICE OF THE MASS
*THE SACRAMENTS AND SACRAMENTALS
*CONCELEBRATION OF MASS
*THE LITURGICAL YEAR
*CONSTITUTION ON THE CHURCH
*DECREE ON THE EASTERN CHURCHES
*DECREE ON ECUMENISM
*THE FINAL SESSION
VATICAN COUNCIL, THE SECOND
*MATTERS OF CONCERN FOR THE CATHOLIC STUDENT
*POPE JOHN XXIII's OPENING ADDRESS
*DOGMATIC CONSTITUTION ON THE CHURCH - LUMEN GENTIUM
*DOGMATIC CONSTITUTION ON DIVINE REVELATION - (DEI VERBUM) *CONSTITUTION
ON THE SACRED LITURGY - SACROSANCTUM CONCILIUM *PASTORAL CONSTITUTION:
ON THE CHURCH IN THE MODERN WORLD - GAUDIUM ET SPES
*ADAPTATION AND RENEWAL OF RELIGIOUS LIFE - PERFECTAE CARITATIS *DECLARATION
ON RELIGIOUS FREEDOM - DIGNITATIS HUMANAE
*GUIDE-LINES ON RELIGIOUS RELATIONS WITH THE JEWS
*DECLARATION ON CHRISTIAN EDUCATION - GRAVISSIMUM EDUCATIONIS *DECREE ON
PRIESTLY TRAINING - OPTATAM TOTIUS
*DECREE ON THE APOSTOLATE OF LAY PEOPLE - APOSTOLICAM
*DECREE ON THE PASTORAL OFFICE OF BISHOPS IN THE CHURCH - CHRISTUS DOMINUS
*DECREE ON ECUMENISM - UNITATIS REDINTEGRATIO
*DECREE ON THE CATHOLIC CHURCHES OF THE EASTERN RITE - ORIENTALIUM ECCLESIARUM
*DECREE ON THE MISSION ACTIVITY OF THE CHURCH - AD GENTES
*DECREE ON THE MEANS OF SOCIAL COMMUNICATION - INTER MIRIFICA *APOSTOLIC
BRIEF - IN SPIRITU SANCTO
*CLOSING MESSAGES OF COUNCIL
*CLOSING SPEECH - POPE PAUL VI
CAVEAT EMPTOR .... These notes are intended as an AID to study by Catholic
of the Second Vatican Council. They contain material, some written in a
journalistic style, for
the American reader. To that extent they are biased; but they 'set the
stage' and 'wet the
appetite' for further study of this crucial historical event..
Thirty odd years on the 'Aggiornamento' is still fermenting, the fresh
air of the Holy Spirit
still blowing, a self-destructive 'Civil War' still raging .... But His
Peace will come to us all ...
Students are reminded that, as with all serious study, research is necessary
must be had, wherever possible, to original documentation.
These notes should lead the serious student to the libraries of our Catholic
Universities and to resources no computer system yet devised can replace.
The First Vatican Council was adjourned in 1870, following
the solemn definition of papal infallibility. Only a part of its task had
been accomplished, but it was destined never to meet
again. Pope Pius IX died in 1878, and five popes had come and gone before
Vatican Council was proclaimed by Pope John XXIII.
Pope John announced his intention of summoning the Oecumenical
Council in January, 1959,
within three months of his election to the Chair of Peter; he signed the
Apostolic Constitution, Humane Salutis, on Christmas Day in 1961. Meanwhile,
ten commissions had been formed to prepare draft decrees to be debated
in the Council. At first, seventy decrees were proposed,
but gradually their number was reduced to seventeen.
Pope John wished the Council "to increase the fervour
and energy of Catholics, to serve the
needs of Christian people." To achieve this purpose, bishops and priests
must grow in holiness;
the laity must be given effective instruction in Christian faith and morals;
must be made for the education of children; Christian social activity must
increase; and all
Christians must have missionary hearts. In Italian, he was bale to express
his desire in one
word -- Aggiornamento -- the Church must be brought up to date, must adapt
itself to meet
the challenged conditions of modern times. More than words, Italians appreciate
expressive gestures; so also Pope John, when asked to reveal his intentions,
simply moved to a window
and threw it open, to let in a draught of fresh air.
Eighteen months before the Council assembled, the Pope
himself showed how very fresh and
new the air was to be. He established a special Secretariat "for promoting
and authorized this Secretariat to take part in the prepatory work of the
Council so that
schemes, drafted for debate, would take into account the truly Ecumencial
spirit -- that is, the
desire to understand the beliefs and practices of other Christian bodies,
and the need to
work for the union of all in Christ.
Preparation for the Council:
Long before the Council began, the bishops of the Catholic world were asked
to submit their proposals for subjects to be raised in the Council sessions.
More than two thousand lists of proposals were received together with detailed
opinions from sixty theological faculties and universities. All of this
material was studied and summarized, and suggestions made by the Congregations
of the Roman Curia were also examined.
In June 1960, Pope John established ten commissions, entrusting to each
commission the task of studying particular questions. In this way the Theological
Commission examined problems of scripture, tradition, faith and morals;
other commissions considered bishops and the control of dioceses, religious
orders, the Liturgy of the Church, seminaries and ecclesiastical studies,
the missions, the Eastern Churches and the lay apostolate. A central commission
worked to coordinate the labours of individual commissions, assisted the
Pope to decide the subjects for debate in the Council, and suggested rules
The Council Opens:
The Second Vatican Council opened on October 11th, 1962. More than two
thousand five hundred Fathers were present at the opening Mass -- the greatest
gathering at any Council in
the history of the Church. After the Mass, Pope John addressed the Fathers,
the way in which the Council must move, and the spirit which must animate
it. The way was
to be a renewal, the spirit was to be that of men who place all their trust
in God. In the past,
Pope John said, the Church felt it necessary to use severity and condemnation.
required now is mercy and understanding and, above all, an outpouring of
the riches which
the Church has received from Christ. The task of the Council must be to
find ways by which
the Church can present itself to the world of today, and can reach into
the minds and hearts
of men. The Council must not become a school where theologians can perfect
formulation of Catholic truth.
Inspired by the words of Pope John, the Fathers began
their work. Viewed from outside, in
the manner in which a reporter might comment on Parliamentary debates,
was of two groups -- the "progressives" and the "reactionaries,"
radically and bitterly
opposed to one another. Those bishops whose only concern, it seemed, was
the Church's teaching were labelled reactionaries; those, on the other
hand, who showed
concern for pastoral needs were called progressives. In reality, however,
a Council is not a parliament. The bishops are united in the Faith and
in their love of Christ. In the second
Vatican Council, all have tried to find, in the riches of the Church's
teaching, those truths
which must be stressed and emphasized in the modern world, and to decide
truths may best be set forth for the good of all -- of those who are unbelievers
as well as
those who believe in Christ.
Cardinal Montini (who was soon to succeed Pope John in
the chair of Peter) wrote to his
people in Milan on November 18th, 1962, to explain the two "tendencies"
of the bishop.
The Council, he said, was an assembly of many with complex religious problems.
of the Church, and its universality; the old and the new; what is fixed
and what develops;
the inner value of a truth, and the way in which it is to be expressed;
the search for what is
essential and care for particular details; principles and their practical
application -- religious problems can be considered from so many different
aspects. Discussion of these problems
will often be animated and lively -- yet all the bishops are united by
that very love which
they have for the truth.
Another observer shows how the two "tendencies"
were like two voices. One voice was
uttered by those bishops who wanted, above all else, to preserve the Faith
whole and entire;
the other voice spoke for the bishops who had the same concern for preserving
committed by Christ, but who also felt the great pastoral need to express
that faith in a
language which the modern world could understand and appreciate. This observer
(Jean Guitton) found in the two voices a poetic image of the Cross of Christ.
pillar of the Cross, fixed into the ground, tells the Christian of the
unity, integrity and
unchanging truth of the Faith; the cross-bar, on which Christ stretched
out his arms,
tells the Christian that the Faith is open to all men, that it is universal.
Just as the Cross
unites its two parts, so also the two "voices" or tendencies
are united in the Christian faith.
From the beginning, the Second Vatican Council has shown
that the great majority of the
bishops are concerned with the pastoral needs of the Church. They have
shown that concern
in many different ways -- in the enthusiasm with which they have welcomed
dialogue with non- catholic Christians and with Orthodox Churches; in the
which they have followed the historic visits of Pope John Paul VI to the
Holy Land and to
India; and above all in the overwhelming approval which they gave to the
the Sacred Liturgy," in the second session of the Council (December
The Council and the Liturgy:
The changes in the Liturgy of the Church show how the work of the Council
catholic. In earlier ages of Christendom changes were made in Canon Law
and in the
Christian Life itself. But these changes usually took place so slowly and
gradually that each
man in his own brief life-time hardly noticed them; if he did take heed
of change, he did not
find the change disturbing. But in modern times -- above all in the middle
of the twentieth
Century -- the whole tempo and movement of secular history has increased
in every sphere
of life, and with the greatest rapidity. The Church is new as well as old.
If it is to remain up
to date and in touch with the urgent needs of modern life, then the Church,
too, must undergo change. Clearly, changes and adaptations must be accomplished
with great prudence.
Clearly, too, great courage is needed, if the ancient and unchanging truths
and ways of life
and worship are to take on new forms.
Inevitably, many Catholics have found the liturgical changes
disturbing. Older Catholics, in particular, have over the years grown deeply
attached to the words and actions of the Latin
Mass; they have learned to love it, in its Latin form, and it has become
for them a permanent
and unchanging reality in a rapidly changing world. Latin was the common
tongue -- the linguna franca -- of the Western world, used by clerics,
statesmen and scholars. Since the Mass is the common prayer of the whole
Church, many feel that Latin should still be retained. This view
was expressed in the first great Decree to issue from the Council -- the
"Constitution on the
Sacred Liturgy." The Decree states "the use of the Latin language
is to be preserved in the
The change from Latin to English, in parts of the Mass,
has been singled out because it
appears to many to be the most striking result of the Council's work. But
the Council has
authorized the use of the vernacular, or mother-tongue, not only for parts
of the Mass but
also for the administration of every sacrament and sacramental. It has
councils of bishops to establish liturgical commissions whose task is to
translations of liturgical texts, and to promote knowledge and love of
the sacred liturgy.
While local commissions are engaged upon this work, the
Central Liturgical Commission
meets in Rome. Its primary function is the revision of the liturgical books.
function is to adapt the liturgy to the needs of modern times, and to enable
all Catholics to
take part actively in the official worship which the Church offers to God.
and unexpected these changes might appear, they are in fact intended to
step by step, until eventually the renewal of the liturgy has been completed.
The first major result of this work by the Central Commission
was the promulgation, in
September 1964, of an Instruction for putting into effect the "Constitution
of the sacred
Liturgy." This instruction drew attention to the fact that changes
are taking place, not for the
sake of change, but because the Liturgy is at the centre of Christian life
and worship. It is
through the active sharing in these sacred rites that the faithful, the
People of God, "will drink
deeply from the source of divine life. They will become the leaven of Christ,
the salt of the
earth. They will bear witness to that divine life; the will be instrumental
in passing it on to others."
By modern standards, florid and elaborate ceremonies,
dress and ornament are seldom
esteemed. During the course of centuries, many features or details had
crept into the liturgy,
and these features are now regarded as unsuited to the worship of God and
out of keeping
with the real nature and dignity of that worship. For this reason the liturgical
books are being
revised and the rites simplified. The first book to appear, following the
Council's decree, is
known as the Ordo Missae. Issued in January 1961, this book sets forth
the rite which is to
be followed, in keeping with the changes introduced by the Council and
by the Liturgical Commission.
Where possible, the high altar is to be placed in such a way that Mass
may be offered by
the priest facing the people; the altar should stand away from the wall
of the sanctuary, so
that room is left to allow the priest to move around it. The Blessed Sacrament
reserved in a strong tabernacle, placed at the centre of the high altar;
but it maybe placed
upon a side altar, if that side altar is dignified and easily seen. Again,
the tabernacle may
be placed on the altar at which Mass is said facing the people; in this
case the tabernacle
should be small.
The cross and candlesticks will be placed upon the altar
in the customary way; in certain circumstances, however, the bishop may
allow them to be placed alongside the altar. The
sedilia, or seats for the celebrant and sacred ministers, should be easily
seen by the faithful,
and the celebrant's sedile should be so placed as to show that he is presiding
over the Mass
as the assembly of the People of God. There should be an ambo (lectern
or reading-desk) --
clearly visible to the faithful; from which the readings from Scripture
are to be made. It
should be observed that many of these changes can be effected only when
are planned; where possible, the sanctuary of an existing church should
be adapted in
accordance with the Instruction of the Central Commission.
The sacrifice of the Mass:
In the rite of the Mass, the following are the changes already announced:
1. The celebrant does not say privately those parts of the Proper of the
Mass which are
sung by the choir, recited by the people, or proclaimed by the deacon,
sub-deacon or lector.
The celebrant may, however, join with the people in singing or reciting
parts of the Ordinary
of the Mass --as, for example, the Gloria and the Credo.
2. Psalm 42 is omitted from the prayers to be said at the foot of the altar
at the beginning
of Mass. Whenever another liturgical service immediately precedes the Mass,
opening prayers are omitted.
3. The "secret" prayer before the preface is to be said or sung
4. The "Doxology" at the end of the Canon of the Mass (that is,
the prayer "Through him,
and with him . . . ") is to be said or sung in a loud voice. The signs
of the Cross, formerly
made during this prayer, are omitted, and the celebrant holds the host
with the chalice,
slightly raised above the corporal. The "Our Father" is said
or sung in the vernacular by
the people together with the priest. The prayer which follows -- is called
(that is, an insertion or interpolation) and was originally added to the
Mass as an extension
of the last petition in the "Our Father:" a prayer to be freed
from evil, and for our sins to
be forgiven. This prayer is also to be said or sung aloud by the celebrant.
5. The words spoken by the priest when giving Holy Communion have been
"Corpus Christ" -- "The Body of Christ;" the person
communicating says "Amen" before
receiving Holy Communion; and the priest no longer makes the sign of the
Cross with the host.
6. The Last Gospel is omitted, and the prayers formerly recited at the
end of the Mass (the "Leonine" prayers) are no longer said.
7. Provision is made for the Epistle to be read by a lector of by one of
the servers; the Gospel
must be proclaimed by the celebrant or by a deacon.
8. At all Masses attended by the faithful on Sundays and Holydays, the
Gospel is to be
followed by a homily, or explanation reading from the Scriptures. This
homily may be based
upon some other text of the Mass, taking account of the feast or mystery
which is being
9. After the Creed, provision is made for what is called the "community
called the "prayer of the faithful." In some countries this prayer
is already customary; in most
places, however, it has not yet been introduced. In due course the form
of this community
prayer will be announced by the Central Liturgical Commission.
10. In accordance with the changes outlined above, the Ordo Missae issued
in January 1965
states that, as a general rule, the celebrant will say the opening prayers
at the foot of the altar;
when he has kissed the altar, he will go tot he sedile or seat and remain
there until the prayer
of the faithful has been said before the offertory leaving it for the ambo
if he himself is to read
the Epistle and Gospel but returning to it for the Creed.
11. At a High Mass the subdeacon no longer wears the humeral veil; the
paten is left upon
the altar, and the subdeacon joins the deacon in assisting the celebrant.
12. Suitable translations of parts of the Mass are to be prepared by regional
councils of bishops. When these translations have been confirmed by the
Holy See, they
may be used when Mass is said in the vernacular. The extent to which the
used varies greatly. Generally speaking, its use is permitted for the first
part of the
Mass -- the "Service of the Word" -- and for certain prayers
in the second part -- the
Another important change concerns the Eucharistic Fast. Until recent years,
this Fast was
from midnight. Then it was reduced to three hours. Finally it was altered
to a fast of one hour
from food and drink; this hour is to be reckoned from the time when Holy
Communion is to
be received, and not from the time Mass starts. Those who receive Communion
in the Mass
of the Easter Vigil, or at the Midnight mass of Christmas, may also receive
Communion on the following morning (That is, Easter Sunday or Christmas
The Sacraments and Sacramentals:
Among the changes which have been introduced into the rites for the administration
sacraments, the following points should be noted.
1. The rites themselves are to be modified and adapted to the needs of
so that the true meaning of sacramental signs may be readily grasped.
2. The vernacular may be used
(a) throughout the rites of Baptism, Confirmation, Penance,
the Anointing of the Sick, and Matrimony; and in the distribution of Holy
(b) in conferring Holy Orders, for the allocution, or opening address,
for the "admonitions"
to those receiving Orders, and for the ritual "interrogation"
of a priest who is about to receive consecration as a bishop;
(c) in funeral ceremonies, and in all blessings known as "sacramentals."
3. The ancient ritual for adults who are receiving instruction in the Catholic
faith was called
the "catechumenate." This ritual is to be brought into use once
more, and will extend through
several distinct stages, with an interval of time between each stage. In
some features of local "initiation rites" may be introduced,
provided that they can be
adapted to Christian principles.
4. The rite of infant baptism is to be altered, to express the fact that
an infant is receiving the sacrament, and to emphasize the duties of parents
5. Confirmation should be administered within the Mass, following the Gospel
Those to be confirmed should renew the promises made at baptism.
6. The rite and formula for the Sacrament of Penance are to be altered,
to give clearer
expression to the nature and effects of this sacrament.
7. Similar revisions are to be made in the Sacrament of the "Anointing
of the Sick." The
Council has ruled that this phrase should be used in preference to the
"Extreme Unction." The prayers and the number of the annointings
will be altered, to
correspond with the changing conditions of the sick person. In countries
has not yet been made for a continuous rite for the Sacraments of he Sick
(that is, when
the illness is such that the sick person is to receive the Last Blessing
and Holy Viaticum)
instructions have now been given for the for the use of this continuous
8. The Sacrament of Matrimony is to be celebrated within Mass, unless there
is a good
reason for the marriage to take place outside Mass. The Mass known as the
(Missa pro Sponsis) must be said, or at least commemorated. The homily,
may never be omitted, and the Nuptial Blessing is always to be given, even
times when the solemnization of marriage has been excluded, and even if
one or both of the
parties has already been married. A new rite has been introduced for the
Matrimony outside Mass. This rite consists of a short address, the reading
of the Epistle
and Gospel (taken from the Missa pro Sponsis), a homily, the celebration
of the marriage,
and the Nuptial Blessing. A hymn or other chant may be sung, and the "prayer
of the faithful"
-- adapted to include prayers for the newly married couple -- may be said
Nuptial Blessing is given. These instructions concerning marriage have
been made for
Catholic weddings; that is, when both parties are Catholics.
9. In the past, the right to give many blessings had been reserved, in
such a way that without
special authority a priest could not give these blessings, With some exceptions
may now be give by any priest. The exceptions are: the blessing of Stations
of the Cross;
the blessing of a church bell of the foundation stone of a church; the
blessing of a new
church or public oratory, or of a new cemetery. Papal blessings are still
Further instances of the adaptation and simplification desired by the Council
abbreviations in the elaborate ceremonial which, in the course of centuries,
built around the Cardinalate. While the number of cardinals has greatly
ceremonies have been shortened. The Pope no longer places the large red
hat on the
head of a new cardinal; instead, the hat is delivered to his residence
in Rome by a Vatican messenger. The ceremony, in which the Pope places
the red biretta upon the cardinal's head,
has now been incorporated within one comprehensive ceremony, which is still
"public consistory," during which the Pope and the newly-created
cardinals join together
to concelebrate Mass. Some simplification of the ecclesiastical dress of
and other prelates, as well as simplification of the ceremonies at which
they pontificate, also indicates the manner in which the Church is anxious
to adapt itself to present-day values.
The Concelebration of Mass:
a custom which has always been found in the Church -- signifies the unity
of the priesthood.
Until the Second Vatican Council, however, the custom had usually been
restricted to the
Mass for the ordination of a priest or the consecration of a bishop. The
Council has extend
the custom of concelebration to other occasions, such as the Mass on the
evening of Maundy Thursday, and Masses celebrated at meetings of priests.
Similarly, the Council has recognized
that in certain cases, clerics, religious and lay people may receive Holy
Communion under the species of wine as well as of bread. Examples given
in the Constitution on the Liturgy are:
newly ordained clerics in the Mass of Ordination; newly professed religious,
in the Mass of profession; and newly baptized adults in the Mass which
maybe said following their baptism.
The Apostolic See reserves the right to determine these cases, and to issue
rules both for concelebration and for receiving Holy Communion under both
The Divine Office:
The following are the main changes introduced by the Council in the signing
recitation of the Divine Office.
1. The sequence of the "hours" of the Office is to be restored
to its traditional form, so
that each hour is in fact related to the time of day at which it is said;
in this way the recitation
of the Office will better express its purpose, to sanctify the whole course
of the day.
2. The hour of Lauds represents the morning prayer of the Church; while
Vespers is the hour of evening prayer. These two hours are to become once
again the principal hours of the day's Office. Compline is to be revised
so that it will become a suitable prayer for the end of the day.
3. The hour of Prime is suppressed. When the office is recited in choir,
the three "little
hours" of Terce, Sext and None are to be said. Those who are not obliged
to recite the
Office in choir may select any one of these three hours, according to the
time of day.
4. When recited in choir, the hour of Matins is to be regarded as the night
prayer of the
Church; but this hour is to be reconstructed with longer scriptural and
other readings and
fewer psalms, and adapted so that it may be recited at any time of the
5. The Latin language remains the official language of the Western Church;
but in individual
cases, where Latin is an obstacle, bishops and other superiors may authorize
of the Office in the vernacular. This is because the Divine Office is,
first and foremost,
a prayer offered to God.
The Council has recognized that, in some cases, the use of the Latin tongue
can be a hindrance
of devotion and can make it difficult for a person to pray the Office as
it should be prayed.
The Liturgical Year:
1. The Constitution recalls the unchanging practice of the Church of celebrating
Sunday the paschal mystery -- the mystery of the passion, death, resurrection
of Christ the Lord. Sunday is the original feast day, the center of the
whole liturgical year.
2. The liturgical year is to be revised, both to preserve the age-old customs
of the holy seasons, and also to adapt those customs, where necessary,
to the conditions of
modern times. Detailed rules are provided for this revision; the rules
are based upon the
pastoral nature of the liturgy -- the need to keep before the minds of
Christians the mysteries
of salvation in Christ.
3. The Constitution declares that there is no objection to fixing the date
of Easter --
provided other non-Catholic Christian communities reach agreement. Similarly,
a "perpetual calendar" is acceptable, if it is based upon a reckoning
which retains a
seven-day week with Sunday, and provided that it does not insert extra
days which are
considered to belong to no week.
1. The Council drew attention to the age-old tradition of sacred music
and singing, closely
linked to the liturgy; and the Constitution declares that worship becomes
more noble when
it is carried out with solemn singing, especially when the celebrant, ministers
and people take
an active part.
2. Great attention is to be paid to the teaching and practice of sacred
music, in harmony
with training and instruction in the liturgy.
3. Gregorian chant is especially suited tot he Roman liturgy, but other
kinds of sacred music
must not be excluded. In mission lands where the people have their own
musical traditions, these traditions also should be incorporated into Christian
4. In the Latin Church, the pipe organ is recognized as the traditional
musical instrument, but
other instruments maybe used provided that they can be adapted for use
in divine worship.
1. Things that are set apart for use in divine worship should have dignity
because they serve as symbols and signs of the supernatural world. The
of the fine arts is sacred art, which is man's attempt to express the infinite
beauty of God
and to direct his mind to God.
2. The Church has always been the patron of the fine arts. The Church reserves
the right to
decide whether an artist's work is in keeping with divine worship.
3. Artistic styles vary from one time and place to another. Modern art
is the expression of
our times; provided that it is in keeping with divine worship, a work of
modern art and may
be used for sacred use.
4. Bishops and others responsible for churches and holy places should remove
places all objects which lack true artistic value, or which may be out
of keeping with divine
worship. Similarly, they should see that the number of statues and pictures
should be moderate,
and that they should be placed in such a way that a true sense of proportion
5. All things destined for use in divine worship should have simple dignity;
does not accord with the worship of God. Each diocese should have its own
of Sacred Art; ecclesiastical laws, relating to the building of churches,
are to be revised
The Constitution on the Church:
The First Vatican Council, ending so abruptly in 1870, is known as the
for it defined the dogma of papal infallibility and stressed the supremacy
of the Holy See.
It is likely that the Second Vatican Council will go down in history as
the Council which
explained the organic structure of the Church. This explanation is centred
Constitution De Ecclesia -- dealing with the Church itself. The main points
Constitution are outlined below.
1. Too often in the past, the sacramental nature of the Church has been
lost to view.
Some theologians used to describe the Church in terms of a perfect, independent
often in competition with other social systems. Others preferred to see
it as a complexity
of legal systems, issuing laws to control man's spiritual destiny. Others,
again, looked at
age-old institutions, its fine buildings and palaces, the splendour of
its ornaments, vestments
and ceremonies, and saw in all these things evidence of triumph and victory
-- "ecclesiastical triumphalism."
2. The Constitution sees the Church, not as any of those things, but as
"the sacrament of union
with God, the sacrament of the unity of the whole of the human race."
A sacrament is a sign
which brings about what it signifies. The Church is the sign of unity.
Through it, Christ, its
founder, shows the power and presence of God, acting upon society, upon
upon the world itself; and the action is the same as Christ's action on
Cavalry -- bringing
mercy and pardon to men.
3. The Church is the sign because it is the community of the People o God.
redemption and the power of the Holy Ghost, act in and through God's people
all mankind. The People of God are being sanctified; yet they remain weak
subject to temptation, liable to sin. This is not a Church of triumph,
whose members can
lord it over others, while remaining secure within its walls. It does not
compete with other
social systems and other cultures; it adapts itself to these systems, because
it is an instrument
which God uses to save mankind. It is a missionary Church -- the People
of God are
missionaries. They seek that union with God which is true holiness; they
are the instruments
through whom God unites and sanctifies mankind.
4. The Catholic Church professes that it is the one, holy catholic and
apostolic Church of
Christ; this it does not and could not deny. But in its Constitution the
Church now solemnly acknowledges that the Holy Ghost is truly active in
the churches and communities separated
from itself. To these other Christian Churches the Catholic Church is bound
in many ways:
through reverence for God's word in the Scriptures; through the fact of
other sacraments which they recognize.
5. The non-Christian may not be blamed for his ignorance of Christ and
salvation is open to him also, if he seeks God sincerely and if he follows
of his conscience, for through this means the Holy Ghost acts upon all
men; this divine
action is not confined within the limited boundaries of the visible Church.
6. The Constitution then turns to the structure of the hierarchy which
Christ established in his Church. It uses the word "college"
in the sense of a unified, corporate body of men (just as
cardinals are said to belong to a "sacred college"). Christ formed
his Apostles "after the
manner of a college," and over this college he placed Peter, whom
he had chosen from
their midst. The mission which Christ entrusted to the Apostles must last
until the end of
the world; accordingly the Apostles chose others to succeed them. It is
therefore by divine institution that bishops have succeeded the Apostles.
The college or body of bishops,
however, has authority together with the Pope as its head. The Pope is
the foundation of
unity, of bishops as well as of the Faithful; so that supreme authority
can be exercised by
the college of bishops only in union with the Pope and with his consent.
7. Bishops give to other individuals a share in the ministry. Priests and
bishops are united in the priestly office. At a lower level is the hierarchy
are deacons. When regional conference of
bishops deem it necessary--and when the Pope consents--bishops can confer
upon men of mature years, even if these men are married.
In the third session of the Council, practical applications of the principle
of collegiality were
left over to await discussion in the draft scheme concerning bishops. These
applications affect such problems as the division of dioceses and the powers
to be used
by episcopal conferences. Another important problem, related to the principle
bishops and the Pope together form a "college," is the establishment
of a central advisory
council of bishops. The form which this advisory council takes is likely
to resemble a
"cabinet" in a civil state, in which the president or prime minister
chooses a group of
ministers and advisers. When Pope Paul VI, in February 1965, created many
and greatly increased the number in the "Sacred College" of cardinals,
he spoke of the great importance of this senate of the Church. Since each
cardinal is consecrated bishop (if he is
not already a bishop), and since the College of Cardinals includes representatives
every part of the world, it seems to many observers that the cardinals
form the "central advisory council," in which the collegiate
responsibility of the bishops
will be expressed.
The Holy See has also continued the work of "reforming" the roman
Curia, adapting its
structure and activities to bring it into harmony with the needs of modern
times and including
among its officials a greater proportion of non-Italians. An important
instance of this reform
is in the Holy Office, which now includes bishops of dioceses in France
and in the
The Decree On The Eastern Churches:
At the close of the thirds session, the Vatican Council gave overwhelming
to the Decree on the Eastern Churches.
1. The Catholic Church reveres these Eastern Churches, which are "living
the tradition which has been handed down from the apostles through the
The whole Church of Christ is made up of a number of particular Churches
many of these Eastern Churches are joined in full communion with the Apostolic
2. The traditions of each Church should be preserved intact, while adapting
itself to the
different necessities of time and place. Each Church has the duty and the
right to govern itself according to its traditional discipline. In each
Church the rights and privileges of patriarchs
must be preserved and, where necessary, restored. But all Churches are
entrusted tot he
supreme pastoral care of the Roman Pontiff as the successor of Saint Peter.
3. All Eastern Catholic Christians must follow the rite, as well as the
discipline, of their
respective Churches. In many places, Catholics of different rites are intermingled.
places, priests should have faculties for hearing confession may absolve
the faithful who
belong to other rites. In certain circumstances Baptism and Confirmation
may be administered
to people of other rites, and marriages contracted between Christians of
different rites may
also be valid, when the marriage contract is made in the presence of a
Similarly, the Council recognizes the validity of Holy Orders conferred
in the Eastern
Churches, and permits Catholics to receive Holy Communion and the Anointing
Sick from priests of other rites, when the need arises and when no Catholic
priest is available.
These permissions express the desire of the Catholic Church to promote
union with the
Eastern churches which are separated from Catholic unity.
The importance which the Holy See attaches to the Eastern Churches, and
the great desire
for reunion, were evident throughout the sessions of the Council. Apart
from the Greek
Orthodox Church, all the separated Eastern Churches sent observers to the
Patriarchs of Eastern Catholic Churches were given a special place of honour,
took a prominent part in Council debates. The Consistory held in February
1965 for the
creation of new cardinals, raised the number of cardinals of Eastern rites
to six. The Eastern patriarchs ranks as cardinal bishops.
Unlike other cardinals, they are not allotted titular churches in Rome,
nor are they given
titular sees in the province of Rome; instead, they retain the title of
their patriarchal sees.
This compromise has not been welcomed by every Eastern Catholic; for, in
the hierarchy of the Church, a patriarch possesses the highest authority,
to which the cardinalate can add nothing.
Similarly, the decree on the Eastern Churches has been criticized on the
grounds that, while
it is ostensibly addressed to the Churches which are in full communion
with the Holy See,
in reality it is directed to the Orthodox Churches whose members consider
Eastern catholic Churches are obstacles to reunion.
The Decree On Ecuminism:
Over the centuries differences between Christians have led to profound
but modern times have seen a great movement towards unity; and the decree
by saying, "Christ the Lord founded one Church and one Church only.
One of the
principal concerns of this Council is the restoration of unity among all
1. All who have been "justified by faith in baptism" are members
of the Body of Christ;
they all have the right to be called Christian; the children of the Catholic
them as brothers.
2. The Catholic Church believes that the separated Churches and communities
in some respects." But the Holy Ghost makes use of these Churches;
they are means of
salvation to their members.
3. Catholics are encouraged to join in Oecumenical activity, and to meet
Christians in truth and love. The task of "Oecumenical dialogue"
belongs to theologians,
competent authorities representing different Churches.
4. Catholics should not ignore their duty to other Christians --- they
should make the first
approach. Even so, the primary duty of the Church at the present time is
to discover what
must be done within the catholic Church itself; to renew itself, to put
its own house in order. Catholics sincerely believe that theirs is the
Church of Christ; everything necessary must be
done that others also may clearly recognize it as Christ's Church.
5. The ecumenical movement can make no progress without a real change of
Theologians and other competent Catholics should study the history, teaching
and liturgy of separated Churches. All Christians have a common purpose
-- to confess Christ before men. Practical expression must be given to
this, by relieving the distress which afflicts so many of
the human race: famine, poverty, illiteracy, the unequal distribution of
wealth, housing shortage.
6. In appropriate circumstances prayers for unity should be recited jointly
non-Catholic Christians. Catholics are to be directed in this by their
subject to the decisions of the Holy see.
7. Between the catholic Church and Western non-Catholic Christian communities,
important differences remain; these differences are most evident in the
interpretation of truth revealed
by God. But the bonds of unity are already strong; their strength must
be put to use. The
bonds are, chiefly, the fact that Christians believe in the divinity of
Christ and the fact of
reverence for God's word revealed in the Bible.
8. In the cause of ecumenism, the Catholic must always remain true to the
Faith that he has received. Impudent zeal in this matter is a hindrance
to unity and not a help. So also is any
attempt to achieve a merely superficial unity.
By the close of the third session, in November of 1964, the Council had
voted in favour of
two Constitutions and three Decrees. The Constitutions were those dealing
with the liturgy and
with the Church; the Decrees were on Oecumenism, on the Eastern Churches,
and on "Means
of Communication" (dealing with modern mass media, such as the Press,
cinema, radio and television; this Decree was generally regarded as excessively
clerical, abstract and unworthy
of its important subject).
Of the schemata outstanding at the end of the third session, the principal
ones were those
dealing with priests and seminaries, religious, the missions, the "pastoral
duties of bishops,
" Divine revelation, and "the Church and the Modern World."
Intensive and prolonged
drafting, debating, amending, further debating followed by further amending,
the path of each of these topics. They have also manifested the will of
the Council that
everything possible must be done to make this the Council of renewal in
Among the outstanding topics, those contained in Schema 13 command the
For this is the schema on the Church in the modern world. The Council must
show that in its debates it is not moving on the abstract plane; the Church
is in this world, committed to it by a divine commission. Of all the topics
discussed, probably none has been more widely awaited.
No schema has passed through more stages, none has suffered greater amendment.
schema is entrusted to two commissions working together -- the Commission
and the Commission for the Lay Apostolate. In February 1965 the revised
text (that is, the
text in its fourth form) was examined by the mixed commission, and a further
meeting was to
be held before the text was to be sent to the bishops. In this text there
are stated the questions
and problems that the modern world puts to the Church, and the fields in
which it seeks the Church's co-operation. Then the text outlines the things
on which the Church is competent to pronounce, while a brief analysis of
history shows how mistakes have been made in the past
when the Church became involved in political systems. Under the headings
of anthropology, sociology and cosmology, the text then details the attitude
of the Church to the modern world.
The extreme complexity of these problems is shown by the fact that seven
sub-committees are at work. These sub-committees deal with:
(a) the basis in theology;
(b) the general manner of presentation;
(c) the question of man's presence in society;
(e) social and economic questions;
(f) peace and war -- including nuclear war and disarmament; and finally
(g) questions of modern culture.
During the third session, many other important issues were raised. Among
them were the
declaration on religious liberty, and a further declaration concerning
those who are not
Christians (including a declaration on those who belong to the Jewish faith).
These declarations were returned for further revision, and action for approval
postponed until the fourth session.
The question of mixed marriages was also raised (that is, marriages contracted
Catholic and non-Catholic Christians). The Council Fathers decided to submit
to the Pope for a ruling, and expressed the hope that this ruling would
be given in advance
of the promulgation of the reform in Canon Law. While the general question
of marriage is
included in the schema on the Church in the modern world, Pope Paul VI
has reserved to
himself the decision as to whether any change should be made in the teaching
Pope Pius XI (which was repeated by his successor, Pope Pius XII) concerning
of birth control. Pope Paul enlisted aid from distinguished theologians
and doctors to
assist him in forming his judgement on this question.
THE FINAL SESSION:
The fourth and last session of the Council opened September 14th, 1965,
December 8th. By far the most active of the sessions,
it issued two constitutions (divine revelation, modern problems of the
six decrees (duties of bishops, seminaries, life of religious, apostolate
of the laity, priestly life, missions),
and three declarations (the Church and non-Christian religions, Christian
education, religious liberty).
The Council witnessed a dramatic demonstration of ecumenism on December
Pope Paul and the Orthodox Patriarch Athenagoras I formally expressed their
the mutual excommunications pronounced by their predecessors. Pope Leo
Patriarch Cerularius, in 1054.
The documentary work of the Council, the fruit of laborious committee study,
preliminary versions, and countless revisions, is represented by sixteen
final drafts, as follows:
"On the Sacred Liturgy" (Dec. 4, 1963),
"On the Church" (Nov. 21, 1964),
"Divine Revelation" (Nov. 18th, 1965),
"The Church in the Modern World" (Dec. 7, 1965);
"The Instruments of Social Communication" (Dec. 4, 1963),
"Ecumenism" (Nov. 21, 1964),
"The Eastern Catholic Churches" (Nov. 21, 1964),
"The Pastoral Duty of Bishops," (Oct. 18, 1965),
"On the up-to-date Renewal of Religious Life,
"On Priestly Formation" (Oct. 28, 1965),
"On the Apostolate of the Laity" (Nov. 18, 1965),
"On the Ministry and the Priestly Life" (Dec. 7, 1965),
"On the Missionary Activity of the Church" (Dec. 7, 1965),
"On the Relationship of the Church to non-Christian Religions"
"On Christian Education" (Oct 28, 1965),
"On Religious Freedom" (Dec 7,1965).
It is to be noted that this file is the gist of the
Vatican Council II and by no means does it contain everything
that the attendees accomplished there.
For anyone who wants more detailed information,
there are many excellent books on the subject.
Here is a Vatican II search engine which also has free downloadable text
of this Council.
Vatican Council II
December 12, 1998
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