I am going to begin a new series, one that is very ambitious but also much needed, I think.
It has been 52 years since the Second Vatican Council ended, and there remains much confusion and controversy over the Council. Consider how Pope Francis felt the need to recently state that the liturgical reforms initiated by the Council are here to stay.
So, I want to begin a series of reflections on the documents of Vatican II, beginning with the four Constitutions, Lumen Gentium, Dei Verbum, Sacrosanctum Concilium, and Gaudium et Spes.
These are long documents, and they are thick with meaning. So, this process will be long, for I intend to take each document paragraph by paragraph, for the most part, so that each document will be given the attention it merits.
Perhaps I should begin by saying that I am 56 years old, born in 1961. The Second Vatican Council met for the years 1962 to 1965. Doing the math, you can see that I have no recollection of the Church prior to Vatican II. By the time I was old enough to remember attending Mass, the priest was already facing the people and the Mass was in English. My reflections, then, won’t be influenced by either a romantic view of the Church prior to the Council, or of a negative view of such. I have no personal view of the Church prior to the Council, because I have no personal experience of the Church prior to the Council. I am through and through a Vatican II Catholic. Given my age, I could not be otherwise. In some ways, I suppose that will be a disadvantage, and in others an advantage. It matters not, really, for the number of Catholics who have personal remembrances of the Council are aging and dwindling. The average age of Cardinals eligible to vote if a conclave were held today is 71 years, meaning that average Cardinal was 19 when Vatican II ended. What that means is, in as few as ten years, perhaps even the next papacy after Francis, we could have a pope who has no meaningful recollection of the Church prior to Vatican II. So, it will remain for those of us who have no personal remembrance of the Council and, indeed, no personal remembrance even of the Church prior to the Council, to put into effect the initiatives and vision of the Council in the coming years and decades.
I am not a theologian or a liturgist. I am “Joe Catholic” sitting in the pew. But, these documents belong to the whole Church, and that means me. It also means you. That is why my hope for this series is to inspire a dialogue on these documents. It was recently said by someone I respect that so much of the controversy surrounding Vatican II can be attributed to the fact that so few Catholics have actually read the documents of Vatican II. I have read the documents, but it has been many years, and a thorough re-reading is in order. More than a re-reading, I hope this series will offer a serious reflection on the documents, aiming toward the goal of a better understanding of the Church and of “the Church in the modern world.”
My series will begin next Monday, with Lumen Gentium, The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. I will dedicate as many Mondays as possible to this series. I hope you’ll join me.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.