10/13/2012 4:47:00 PM Council is the air we breathe
Catholic News Service photo
Pope John XXIII leads the opening session of the Second Vatican Council in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Oct. 11, 1962. A total of 2,540 cardinals, patriarchs, archbishops and bishops from around the world attended the opening session.
It's a sad misunderstanding of church history that some people see the Second Vatican Council as something to be "for" or "against." It's like taking a stand on air or food. The teachings of Vatican II are what we Catholics have breathed for decades and they have made us who we are.
The gathering of the church's bishops and their advisors, which began 50 years ago, was a rare ecumenical council, the most authoritative kind of assembly the church can have. Convened by Pope John XXIII, the council did not change the church's nature or mission, but reclaimed early Christian emphases. In doing so, it kept the church alive in the modern world.
Fueled by decades of Catholic scripture study and a regained knowledge the early church fathers, the council reminded us to think of ourselves as the People of God, not a pyramid-shaped "perfect society." We admitted that it would no longer serve the gospel well to think of ourselves as separate from culture. What we needed to do, we discovered, was embrace the joys and sorrows of humans and transform the world.
Knowing that prayer and belief feed one another, the council worked first on liturgy. The aim was to energize worship and see to it that the assembly no longer was passive during Mass. Everything the council did on worship was to create full, active, conscious participation. Whether we prefer Mass in Latin, like folk songs or hanker for serene worship, few to none of us would do away with giving responses or serving as lectors and eucharistic ministers. Take Communion to the homebound? Teach catechism? Go through the RCIA? Thank Vatican II.
A medieval piece of wisdom put it this way: ecclesia semper reformanda est, “the church is always in need of reform.” And so, after Vatican II, there is some continuity and some discontinuity, as Pope Benedict has said. Change does not mean it's no longer the church. The followers of Christ have always had to be nimble, adapting to the ascension of their master, the rise and fall of empires, the death of feudalism and the notion of religious liberty.
It makes no sense to oppose or support such movements of faith and history. Instead, our mission is to read the signs of the times and trust that the Holy Spirit is guiding our feeble attempts to bring Christ to a world deeply in need of him.