Q. How is the Second Vatican Council related to the Year of Faith? — Chloe Haertjens, seventh grade, John F. Kennedy Catholic School, Davenport
A. Chloe, your question is great. We have this rich opportunity to delve into our faith, which goes back 2,000 years. But we have only a short distance to travel in exploring what was going on in the 1950s and 1960s leading up to and during Vatican II. On Oct. 11, we are saying happy 50th anniversary to the opening of the Second Vatican Council. Why is this so important? First, to know where we are in the Church, we have to know how we got here. Pope John XXIII began a council to open the windows and allow the fresh air of the Spirit (aggiornamento) to come in and help the Church adapt to the needs of today’s world and people.
Pope John Paul II claimed that Vatican II was one of the greatest religious and cultural events of the 20th century. Many people agree with that assessment. For that reason, it is an event that deserves to be discussed and to be better understood both by those people who can recall it from memory and by others who have selective, secondhand information. Surprisingly, many Catholics have no understanding of Vatican II. This is why we are giving it major emphasis this Year of Faith.
Church documents and councils up to that time in 1962 were, many times, filled with condemnations of people or the nasty term “anathema” (abomination). So, too, many Church documents defined new doctrine. Pope John XIII did not want to define new doctrine or condemn people. He had three major questions on his mind.
• The power of the bishops
• Christian unity
• Helping the Church penetrate the consciousness of modern humankind.
“The Council? I expect a little fresh air from it. We must shake off the imperial dust hat has accumulated on the throne of St. Peter since Constantine (317 AD). We must become a church of pastors, not a society of rulers.” (Pope John XXIII)
It would be a good idea for your class to make two columns marked “before” and “after” to describe the laity before and after the Second Vatican Council. Some people say that before the council we as laity were to “pay, pray and obey.” After the council we understood much better the significance of our baptism: we are priestly, royal and prophetic in our mission.
Vatican Council II told us we are the Church in the world and each of us has a serious obligation to live out our baptismal promises. The council was all about relationships and how important each of ours is in the work of building up of the body of Christ.
The Catholic Church does not reject anything that is true and holy in other Christian denominations and other religions of the world, and in fact looks upon them with sincere respect because of the work of Vatican II.
So in this Year of Faith we are trying to recapture the council’s enthusiasm and energy for our faith. We want the Holy Spirit to inspire us and our Church with authentic faith and wisdom, to be truly a breath of fresh air to our families, parish, diocese and the world.
The 16 documents of Vatican II give us a direction and guide to being witnesses in our world today. May your class study and come to understand why these documents are so important in our lives as active Catholics at Mass and in our world today.
Remember that the Year of Faith is designed to renew the faith of Catholics so that each of us will be credible, joy-filled witnesses to the Risen Lord. We can get this message if we read the opening address of Pope John XXIII to the Vatican II Council. You may want to find it at http://www.catholic-forum.com/saints/pope0261i.htm
— Mary Wieser, director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Davenport
(Students in grades kindergarten through 12 are invited to submit questions about the Catholic Church for The Catholic Messenger’s Young & Curious feature. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or The Catholic Messenger, 780 W. Central Park Ave., Davenport, Iowa, 52804.)