Thursday, October 11, 2012
Vatican II 50 years ago
It was fifty years ago, today, that Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council at St. Peter’s shrine in Vatican City.
More than 2,500 bishops would gather over the tomb of their martyred Father in four different sessions (October 11,1962 -- December 8, 1965).
Sent forth from the Upper Room in Jerusalem and the Cross over Adam’s grave at Golgotha 2000 years ago, these men now incarnated the Eucharist across the face of the earth. Their intention was not to emphasize a particular doctrine or refute a specific error; but, rather, to present the truth of Christ, the Church, and the whole Divine Drama as an explanatory whole. They would proclaim, in the language of biblical personalism, the whole of the Divine message entrusted to the Church. For in Christ and the Church, they held the keys to unlock the mysteries of nature, history, and the person. They called themselves “successors of the apostles gathered in single-hearted prayer with Mary, the mother of Jesus, forming one apostolic body headed by the successor of Peter.”
Five days after the Council opened, the October Cuban missile crisis pitted the US and the USSR at the brink of nuclear war. Four days later the Fathers of the Council wrote their first collective statement. Like Peter surrounded by the apostles in the streets of Jerusalem on that first Pentecost, with a single voice they corporately addressed “all men and nations.” They proclaimed the good news that God had become man to draw humanity back into communion with Him.
The fathers presented themselves as a kind of sacrament: “This very conciliar congress of ours, so impressive in the diversity of races, nations and languages it represents, does it not bear witness to a community of brotherly love, and shine as a visible sign of it? We are giving witness that all men are brothers, whatever their race or nation.”
How fortunate that Vatican I in 1870 was interrupted by the Franco-Prussian War causing withdrawal of French protection, the victory of Italian nationalists, and the loss of the Papal States. The Church, shorn of temporal rule, emerged from that violent era more self-conscious of Her true identity as the mystery of the Church, the People of God, a holy nation amidst the nations. This sacral public body of men, ruling no particular State, could now fulfill her mission and baptize all the nations. The brotherly love of men under God and Law is the public bond upon which Christ built His Church. The same kind of bond has formed the nations since circumcision marked the Old Covenant. The Church has a lesson for the world about the religious and sexual ordering of true Love. After the century in which She proclaimed the spotless feminine purity of Mary in her Immaculate Conception and glorious Assumption, the Apostolic Church demonstrated the public form of hierarchical masculine communion needed to protect sacred goods.
The ringing bell of a village church beckons the believers, but can be heard by all the community. Fifty years after Vatican II may the Light of that fraternal ecclesial event renew our Church and give sight to the nations, and all those of Adam’s sons who will open their eyes and see.
UPDATE: Here is an article summing up the recent statements of Pope Benedict on the anniversary of the Council. His essay of personal memories (which was published in L’Osservatore Romano) is superb!