Education Capsule

Presented by Mary Lou Burke

November 18, 2002



VATICAN II revisited

The vagueness of the purposes for which the Council was invoked encouraged an examination of ecclesiastical life and gave the Council an open agenda. The decision to admit non-Catholic "observers" to sessions of the Council was unique. This caused more scrutiny of counciliar documents and turned the attention of the Council to larger issues of Church's relationship to contemporary world.

Previous councils had insisted on the stability of religious practice and doctrinal formulas. Aggiornamento took the opposite position in the breadth of its application and the depth of its implications. This historical mentality which accepted change as a normal feature of religion reversed the common persuasion among Catholics that their religion was immune to change (modified liturgical and sacramental practice for Eucharist and Reconciliation, religious orders and modified dress and discipline). In seminaries, there was an effort to base the teaching of theology more directly on the text of Scripture.

The disquiet in the Church was symptomatic of a more widespread disquiet throughout the world toward the end of the 1960's against programs, institution and ideologies.

Reforms that resulted reversal of the process of centralization of authority in the Holy See which originated in 11th and 12th centuries and continued til the opening of Vatican II.

An effort to insert into doctrinal formulations some considerations of a more biblical and historical character

Catholics more deeply involved in problems of justice and peace in the world at large.

A style of piety based more directly on biblical sources and public liturgy of the Church to replace "devotionalism" and para-liturgical practice of the 19th and 20th centuries.




The Council registered its awareness of the world in four ways.

  1. the Council evaluated the "world" positively and with some optimism.
  2. the Council desired to see the Church be of spiritual service to the world and to help it to its temporal fulfillment.
  3. the Church was aware that the Church is profoundly affected by culture in which it finds itself.
  4. the Council appropriated John XXIII's judgment that human society was "on the edge of a new era".

There was a decision to make some changes in the Church to put it into a more effective relationship with the world. Vatican II called for religion to be changed by men in order to meet the needs of men. Aggiiornamento

Had to deal with the question of the relationship between the past and the present.

The heart of the problem of Vatican II was

A Council "reforms morals" it confirms dogmas.

The old conciliar figure of the Church as the Lord's field practically disappears from page of Vatican II and is replaced by "People of God" and "Mystical Body of Christ". The one traditional term practically absent from the Council's document is the word "reform" or "reformation". When 'reform' is used it means 'renovation'. The description of the Church as in pilgrimage closely related to the Council's description of the Church as "People of God".

The Council effected some change. We worship and pray differently and official stance towards other religious bodies is different. Change does not jeopardize a deeper identity, it is the precondition for maintaining the authenticity of the 'identity'. The Church conciliated rather than confronted 'updating'.

The case to win, not impose consensus was a hallmark of the Council, exemplified by at least a two-thirds majority for all important steps. "Crisis in ministry" is part of the legacy of the Council and it may indicate that through it s new institutional grounding is taking place. The most obvious and explicit instrument for its institutional grounding was to be the revision of the Code of Canon Law.

Catholics have an inbred tendency to emphasize the continuities in their tradition. To understand the decrees, we must place them in their historical context. This Council abandoned for the most part the technical and juridical language of previous councils. The centerpiece of the Council is LUMEN GENTIUM, the dogmatic constitution on the Church.

Vatican II is described as a "pastoral" council. "Pastoral" means that the Council was concerned with the effectiveness in today's world of the Ministry of the Church. Vatican II intended its message for every member of the Church and in GAUDIUM et SPEC for every man and woman of good will in the world. In SACROCANCTUM CONCILIUM, the council sought to reform the liturgy and give it a more central place in piety that it previously held.