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The Second Vatican Council

The Second Vatican Council

Second Vatican Council

The Second Vatican Council was a General Council summoned by Pope John XXIII on January 25th 1959. A General Council is a meeting of all the bishops of the Church to discuss matters of doctrine, worship and discipline. It is generally considered that the first such Council was recounted in Acts chapter 15 and there have been a great many councils since. The First Vatican Council was held from 1869 to 1870 and took up the challenge of atheism and irreligion which it perceived as being caused by the French Revolution and subsequent revolutions.

When Pope John XXIII was elected he was already elderly. However, he was a man of great depth and was inspired to call the Council which he attributed to the working of the Holy Spirit.

The Council was called not because of particular heresies or to define particular doctrines like many previous Councils but to present the Gospel in a way that people of the Twentieth Century could understand. The basic teachings of the Church were to undergo an ‘aggiomamento’ which means roughly ‘a bringing up to date’. It took the best part of four years before the Council met and observers from all the main churches were invited. Besides the bishops some two hundred experts were also invited to the Council and by the end this had grown to over four hundred.

Although Pope John had hoped that the Council would complete its work in one session it soon became evident that this could not happen and Pope John died in 1963 with almost universal mourning. His successor Pope Paul VI however reconvened the Council which met for a further three sessions. One aim of the Council was to make the Liturgy more accessible to people. This led to the introduction of the use of modern languages which was probably the biggest change for ordinary people in the pew. Another desire of Pope John XXIII was for unity and this was clearly at the forefront of the various decrees. The most important developments of the Council were in areas which might make the recovery of that unity possible. The way in which revelation itself is seen by the Council and the insistence on the place of the Scriptures meant a drawing closer to the Reformed churches and gave rise to the renewal of interest in the Scriptures in the Catholic Church and the greater place given to them in worship. Further statements on religious liberty and various reforms of the liturgy also brought the Catholic Church closer to other churches.

It is forty five years since the Council met and for many of us that lived through it know that it was a time of inspiration and hope for the future. The insights of the Second Vatican Council and the continued renewal of the Church in the direction taken by the Council are to many of us the way forward. The movement begun by the Holy Spirit must continue to flourish.

Gordon Hodgson

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