The Second Vatican Council was the 21st ecumenical council of the Catholic Church, convening just about 1600 years after the first council in Nicaea in 325, where we get the Nicene Creed from. It was overseen by two popes—Blessed Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI—and involved well over 2,000 participants. It took nearly four years to prepare before the council even met. And in four sessions over three years, from 1962-1965, they produced 16 documents. Why all the math and tedious facts? It’s one way of getting a little sense of the immensity of this undertaking and the importance of its place in the history of the Church.
Blessed Pope John XXIII, who convened the council, recognized the need in the Catholic Church for what he called “aggiornamento,” an Italian term that translates roughly as “a bringing up to date.” This was the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, called to address the concerns of the Catholic Church confronted by the challenges of the modern world. Arguably we are still addressing these same issues and for many this renewal is seen to be the important work to be carried forward in the spirit of this 50th anniversary milestone. A competing term, “ressourcement,” a French word that means more or less “going back to the sources,” also emerged from the council, representing a call for grounding in the ancient practices of the Church. And there are many today who feel a need for a more traditional approach to the role of the Church in the modern world. The tension between these two perspectives is itself part of the legacy of the Second Vatican Council. It is also the source of a great deal of frustration among the faithful. Perhaps the most important take home lesson of the council is the teaching that we are all part of the body of the Church, which is the body of Christ. And we are each endowed by God with unique gifts to be shared in service to God and to one another. Let us seek to be open to where the Spirit will lead us, just as John XXIII was, and to use our gifts creatively where they are most needed.
So, where are we today, now 50 years since the opening of the Second Vatican Council? Let us borrow some words of hope from Fr. Ladislas Orsy, SJ: “The Second Vatican Council lives, and we are bound to sustain it. The council lives because the impulse of the Spirit that “caused” the council continues in the community at large. The Catholics of today, therefore, ought to call out daily Adsumus
, that is, “We are present,” just as the bishops in St. Peter’s Basilica cried out at the beginning of every session. The invocation indicates the willingness of the community to be open to the Spirit and to do the work of the Spirit.”
What we have shared here is hardly a history of Vatican II. It is not meant to be. That ground has been covered in a wealth of documentation and commentary. Below are a few useful links for further exploration (also linked in the menu to the left). We have also created a “browsing library” in the Gathering Space of the church where you can take a look at some resources for further study. We will add to that library periodically and will include a bibliography on this site as the resources grow.
To listen to an interview with Fr. Ladislas Orsy, SJ, on the "Vision of Vatican II," check out this video
Listen to Blessed Pope John XXIIIs secretary describe how the council came to be in this video
For a quick reference guide to the 16 documents of the council, click here.
You can read all the original documents issued by the Second Vatican Council here
on the Vatican website.
For a quick walk through the 21 ecumenical councils, check out the column on the right side of this webpage