"There is for us Catholics no way not to be affected" by the Second Vatican Council at the present time, Jesuit Father John O'Malley writes in "Vatican II: 50 Personal Stories."
Today, 50 years after its opening, Catholics continue to assess and debate the precise ways the Vatican II affects them and influences their church's mission and communal life.
Father O'Malley teaches in the theology department at Georgetown University in Washington. He comments in the book's Introduction that "Vatican II taught many things, but few more important than the style of relationships that was to prevail in the church."
"Vatican II: 50 Personal Stories" is a revised, expanded edition of "Vatican II: Forty Personal Stories," published in 2003 (Twenty-Third Publications). Both editions were co-edited by William Madges, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Jesuit-run St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia, and Michael Daley, a teacher of religion at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati.
In this edition Madges and Daley collect "50 stories that describe how Catholics and others responded to the council and its teachings." A storytelling approach is adopted by many of the book's contributors.
Benedictine Father Cyprian Davis made me smile with his description of what it was like in 1967, just after the council, when his abbey, St. Meinrad in Indiana, first celebrated the Liturgy of the Hours in English.
"It was a little like a minor earthquake," the historian of African-American Catholics recalls.
Father Joseph Komonchak was a seminarian in Rome during the council. The theologian's essay speaks of the council's "drama."
Today, Father Komonchak observes, "it is not rare that some who read the (council's) texts for the first time wonder what all the fuss was about. But for Catholics of the time, especially those resident in Rome, the council as it unfolded, particularly during its first session in 1962, was experienced as a tense drama."
Father Komonchak retired in 2009 after teaching more than 30 years at The Catholic University of America.
The lives and careers of many writers in this book were shaped powerfully by the Second Vatican Council. These writers realize that had it not been for the council, their own lives would have followed a quite different course.
I could relate to that aspect of the book. I graduated from college in 1963, during the council's early stages. There is no getting around the fact that my decades-long future career as a Catholic journalist was influenced significantly by the realities of the postconciliar era.
In the first of the book's six sections, eight writers look back at the context and times of the council.
In each of the other five sections, eight to nine writers discuss key council themes: liturgy; the church; revelation, Scripture and tradition; ecumenism and interreligious dialogue; and world issues and social justice.
-- "Gauging the impact of Vatican II on the field of biblical scholarship is something like calculating the impact on space travel of Neil Armstrong's first footstep on the moon. Nothing will ever be the same!" Those are words of Passionist Father Donald Senior, president of Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.
-- Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze, a former president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, makes clear that "thanks to Vatican II, the Catholic Church is irrevocably committed to meeting other believers."
-- Trappist Father Basil Pennington, known to many as a teacher of centering prayer, notes how the council "affirmed that liturgy and life should be closely and coherently one, that liturgical prayer should be an expression of the life of the people." Father Pennington died in 2005.
-- Thomas Groome points to the council as "a catalyst for Catholics to become active agents of their faith rather than passive dependents." The widely known religious educator at Jesuit-run Boston College writes in the book's section on world issues and social justice.
It is not uncommon for commentators, taking a cue from church history, to explain that it can take a good century for the church as a whole to assess and digest an ecumenical council.
In that vein, Dennis Doyle affirms in the foreword to "Vatican II: 50 Personal Stories" that "the meaning of Vatican II is still being worked out in the life of the church." Doyle long taught in the religious studies department at the Marianist University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio.
All of which makes me wonder if a third edition of this book might appear 10 years hence. If not, books similar to it are certain to come off the presses in the decades ahead.
They will attempt yet again to grasp the council's full intent and to spell out its far-reaching impact in key areas of Catholic life.