Our Little Church
The views presented in the following papers are those of the Issues Group and are not necessarily representative of the people of St. Aloysius Parish nor the Roman Catholic Church.
Catholic Issues: The Church Today
The Second Vatican Council
Pope John XXIII was elected to the papacy in 1958. He changed the image of the Catholic Church in the eyes of the world by his personal warmth and humility. He won the hearts of many by seeking the reconciliation and the reunification of all Christians and by attempting to bring the Church in touch with the needs and concerns of the modern world.
Pope John surprised the world community by convening the Second Vatican Council and by inviting observers from all Christian denominations. Two world wars and the rapid advance of science and technology had brought the world into a new era. It was time for the historic church to come to a new understanding of itself by re-opening the windows to the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit.
The Second Vatican Council opened on October 12, 1962. It was the largest meeting of bishops ever assembled (well over 2200) and represented more ethnic diversity than any of the other 20 previous councils in the history of the church. This was also the first council held with the benefit of modern communication (radio, telephone, television).
Pope John took a bold step challenging the council to undertake the great task of redefining and restating doctrine and church in a positive, pastoral way. By the fourth day the bishops were eagerly reformulating documents which were faithful to historical tradition but applicable to the needs of modern times.
Pope John died before the council's work was completed. Pope Paul VI (1963-1978) took over and guided the council to its conclusion in 1965. He found it necessary to support both progressive and traditional factions in order to finish the task. Some of the important teachings emerging from Vatican II are:
1. The Church is a work of God, a union of human and divine, a visible continuation of Christ.
2. All people of God, lay or religious, are the Church.
3. The laity share in the priesthood of Christ and are recognized as full participants in the mission of the Church.
4. All Christians are called to holiness and union with God. Each vocation has its own way to holiness.
5. Mary is a member of the Church, not above the Church, but saved by the grace of God.
6. The Eastern rite was recognized as being an important part of the Church.
Other decrees of the council expanded and clarified its meaning. Among these were: 1) Lay people were to have a more active part in a more understandable liturgy; 2) The study of the Bible was encouraged; 3) Religious freedom for all Christian schools was supported; 4) The Catholic Church openly acknowledged its share of the blame for the division of Christianity; 5) All Christians were encouraged to promote unity by respecting whatever is good and true in other religions even those that are non-Christian. Salvation is through the mercy of God to those who follow truth as known to them; 6) All people should be free to practice the religion of their choice.
Perhaps the most important part of Vatican II in the everyday lives of the laity was called the Pastoral Constitution. This section focused on the dignity of the human person in searching for solutions to life's problems. It discussed marriage and family life. Responsible parenthood must take into account the welfare of the other spouse and the spiritual and material conditions of the times. Parents must consider their responsibility to each other, to God, to their children and to the community.
The Second Vatican Council brought the Church into the 20th Century. Theology based on the ideas of the Middle Ages, though still respected, was no longer seen as the only way to salvation. Bishops were encouraged to work together and with the Pope. Regular meetings of bishops were to be held advising the Bishop of Rome. Religious orders were to renew efforts to adapt more fully to modern life. Priests were advised to develop a more pastoral role and to work together in mutual support. Lay people were encouraged to assume more responsibility in carrying out the mission of Christ and His Church. They were to seek social justice for themselves and for their fellow human beings.
There were many problems and challenges emerging from Vatican II as the hierarchy, priests, religious orders and the laity struggled to adjust to change. In many areas there had been little change in the Church since the Council of Trent (1543-1563). Now the Church seemed overwhelmed. Many accepted change with eagerness, others with apprehension.
Catholic Issues: The Church Today
Vatican II: A Council Rejected or Assimilated?
The transition to a more modern Church has not been smooth. As a result of the First Vatican Council, the papacy had become used to unquestioned authority. The power of the pope and the hierarchy of advisors and department heads known as the Roman Curia was not easy to modify. The bishops of the world were seeking a sharing of decision making with the Bishop of Rome. The priests were seeking a sharing of ideas in implementing change. Religious orders were seeking ways to join the modern world and still retain their identity. The laity was confused by the changes, but were filled with hope for a more compassionate Church.
Pope Paul VI tried to implement change slowly. He restored the status of permanent deacons, added bishops in Asia and Africa, imposed a retirement age of 75 for the clergy, and traveled promoting world peace and ecumenical unity. He wrote encyclicals on the nature of the Church (1964), development of people (1967), priestly celibacy (1967), and natural birth control (1968). His traditional teaching on birth control and priestly celibacy caused turmoil among clerics and laity alike. Over 620 theologians in the United States and Europe signed dissenting statements and sent them to Rome. Many thousands of priests, religious and laity, who had been hoping for a more pastoral Church as a result of Vatican II, were unable to resolve their dilemma of conscience and left. Never in papal history had there been such a negative response to papal teaching. Pastoral guidance during this time was minimal as priests, bishops and the laity struggled with change, tradition and loyalty.
Pope John Paul II was elected pope in 1978. He is the first non-Italian pope since 1522. He has traveled to more nations than any pope in history in order to spread respect for the dignity of all people. Some credit him with contributing to the downfall of Communism.
One of John Paul II's earliest efforts was to call a meeting of bishops to evaluate Vatican II, 20 years after the fact. The bishops expressed concern and hope for the future direction of the Church. Dissent was discouraged. Discussion was controlled and limited.
The pope appointed Cardinal Ratsinger as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith in 1981. Since that time Cardinal Ratsinger has made efforts to centralize authority and control reform. In more recent times Pope John Paul II has censured discussion on married clergy and women in the priesthood.
Changes brought about by Vatican II are still being assimilated, a process which will probably continue for many years. Many bishops will honestly and humbly admit that there is much more in the documents than they have been able to fully comprehend and implement.
The caution of the institutional hierarchy and tradition focused Catholics has tempered enthusiasm, but the Church has been changed by Vatican II and the laity has been given an active role. This role only needs to be accepted by each of us using our God given gifts to fulfill Christ's loving command found in Matthew 25:35-40. "For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me a drink; I was a stranger, and you made Me welcome; I needed clothes, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me. ... whatever you did for one of the least brothers of Mine, you did for Me."
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