Vatican II 50 years later
On Oct. 11, 2012, the church celebrates the 50th anniversary of the first session of the Second Vatican Council. Throughout the fall the Prairie Messenger will include essays and features that examine the story of Vatican II and how it continues to have an impact on the church and the world today.
This editorial, titled Post-Vatican II church, by Rev. Andrew Britz, OSB, is from the Sept. 8, 1986, Prairie Messenger.
It should not surprise us that the Second Vatican Council continues to cause some tension in the church. The tension is a good sign that the council had the courage to go to the heart of issues and call the church to a profound re-evaluation of itself.
Two much more fundamental moves marked the council and continue to challenge
First, as Father Dan Donovan from Toronto noted in a Saskatoon
lecture, the council refused to characterize itself as anti this or that.
It proclaimed that only an optimistic spirit will grasp the reality of
life about us, will find the Lord’s presence in the world.
In other words it saw pessimism as the first heresy. Pope
trumpet call at the council’s opening to disregard “prophets
of doom” continued to ring forth throughout the council.
Optimism does strange things to people and even to huge institutions
like the Catholic Church. Suddenly the church found great things in other
confessions of Christianity and even in non-Christian religions. Not
surprisingly the bishops rejected the centuries-old tenet that error
has no rights and espoused instead a profoundly encompassing teaching
on religious freedom.
The council’s spirit of optimism was most clearly seen in its treatment
of the church in the modern world. While not closing its eyes to various
problems in the world, the council remained upbeat in listing the signs
of the times. It found good news everywhere — and, incidentally,
excited people the world over in the process.
The clearest sign that the courageous spirit of the council is being
rejected is not, as was said above, in the formulation of liberal or
conservative theological principles, but in the espousal of pessimism.
An institutional church which spends more of its energy condemning evils
than convincing its members and the world that Jesus Christ is Good News
in every age and every situation has effectively rejected the council.
The second mark of the council was equally all encompassing. Choosing
the concept of community as central, the church viewed itself as the
People of God. It surely did not deny its hierarchical structure, but
it insisted that its priestly ministry must be seen in the context of
the people, of the church community, not vice versa.
In doing this the church recovered the ancient notion of the sensus fidelium,
that the community is the depository of the faith, that it has a deep
sense of the fullness of tradition.
In this community-centred church, the priesthood was not
something outside or over the church but a charism at its heart capable
of harnessing the power and discerning the faith of God’s people.
In this church vision one did not automatically become
an official teacher simply by virtue of one’s episcopal ordination. It came much more
from the bishop’s marriage to the local people (diocese). The bishop’s
power to teach, to heal, to consecrate is never his own; it is always — if
it is to be truly effective — an expression of the church, the
People of God.
At their deepest level these two marks of the council are really one.
Only optimists will find the full catholicity of our tradition in the
Christian community about them. It is not only bishops and other church
leaders who at various times cannot resist the temptation to place themselves
above the church (community) and attempt to lecture it on truth and virtue.
It is always an awesome moment, though, when the minister,
lost in the midst of God’s people, gathers their fears and difficulties,
their hopes and dreams, and their faith in Jesus and proclaims the catholic
tradition that they are the Body of Christ, a special presence of divinity
in this present world.
There is nothing more optimistic than to celebrate the eucharist, than to proclaim that the cross of Christ has become the tree of life, that this motley group of successors to the prostitutes and sinners whom Jesus so loved is the Body of Christ, the flesh for the life of the world.