The church must give thanks for Vatican II - Catholic Courier

The church must give thanks for Vatican II

On Dec. 8, 1965, the Second Vatican Council came to final adjournment. Pope Paul VI issued an apostolic brief, or letter, in which he declared that the council had been “without doubt among the greatest events of the Church”; “the richest because of the questions which for four sessions (were) discussed carefully and profoundly”; and “the most opportune” because it had addressed “the necessities of the day … sought to meet pastoral needs” and “made a great effort to reach not only Christians still separated from communion with the Holy See, but also the whole human family.”
 

The pope insisted “that all that has been established synodally is to be religiously observed by all the faithful, for the glory of God and the dignity of the Church and for the tranquillity and peace of all.
 

“We have approved and established these things (which) … are to have legal effectiveness, so that they may be disseminated and obtain full and complete effect, and so that they may be fully convalidated by those whom they concern or may concern now and in the future; and so that … all efforts contrary to these things by whoever or whatever authority, knowingly or in ignorance, be invalid and worthless from now on.”
 

In 1972 then-Cardinal Karol Wojtyla published a book about the council in his native Polish. A revised Italian edition appeared in 1979, a year after his election to the papacy, followed the next year by an English translation, Sources of Renewal: The Implementation of Vatican II (Harper & Row).
 

In his Introduction, the pope indicated that he wrote the book originally to “acquit himself of a debt” to the council and to the Holy Spirit who had inspired and guided it.
“It would be a mistake,” he continued, “not to consider the implementation of Vatican II as the response of faith to the word of God as it proceeded from that Council. … Through the Council, the Church has not only shown clearly what it thinks of itself, but also in what way it wishes itself to be realized.”
 

In late 1985, Pope John Paul II convened an Extraordinary Synod of the world’s bishops to commemorate and celebrate the 20th anniversary of the council’s adjournment. In his closing address to the bishops, he said that it was for him a matter of certainty that the Second Vatican Council was “a witness” of the church’s true nature, “well-suited to our times.” It was also a witness of the Holy Spirit and of Christ, the Word incarnate.
 

The Synod’s final report proclaimed: “Unanimously, we have celebrated the Second Vatican Council as a grace of God and a gift of the Holy Spirit, from which have come forth many spiritual fruits for the universal Church and particular churches, as well as for the men and women of our time.”
The report concluded: “We have celebrated and verified the Council, and we commit ourselves to its promotion. The message of the Second Vatican Council has already been welcomed with great accord by the whole Church, and it remains the ‘Magna Carta’ for the future.”
 

In late 1994, Pope John Paul II published an apostolic letter, Tertio Millennio Adveniente (“As the Third Millennium Draws Near”), in preparation for the coming of the Third Christian Millennium and the Jubilee Year 2000.
In that letter he wrote: “The best preparation for the new millennium, therefore, can only be expressed in a renewed commitment to apply, as faithfully as possible, the teachings of Vatican II to the life of every individual and of the whole Church.”
 

To be sure, there can be, and have been, differences in the interpretation of one or another conciliar document or of key portions thereof. But what is clear from the statements both of Pope Paul VI, who presided over three of its four sessions and who formally closed it and then took responsibility for its initial implementation, and of Pope John Paul II, who carried forward that work of implementation, is that the teachings of the council and the renewal it launched are of abiding significance for the life and mission of the church. Indeed, they said, the council was the work of the Holy Spirit for which the church must continually give thanks.
 

In recent years, contrary to the teaching and expressed will of these two popes and of the Extraordinary Synod of 1985, there has been a growing tendency among some Catholics to dismiss the council as a negative rather than an enduringly positive force in the life of the church.
 

The 40th anniversary of the council’s adjournment is an occasion for openly rejecting that false assumption.
 

Father McBrien is a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame.

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