The Second Vatican Council: What was it and why is it important today?

Thursday, October 11 2012

Second_Vatican_Council(CCCB – Ottawa) … October 11, 2012, is the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. To commemorate this, the Episcopal Commission for Doctrine of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) has published a pastoral letter titled The Second Vatican Council: What was it and why is it important today? Its publication is part of the many celebrations surrounding the 50th anniversary, including today’s celebration in Rome presided by Pope Benedict XVI.

The celebration with the Holy Father marks the opening of the Year of Faith, the 50th anniversary of the Council, and the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In his Angelus message of October 10, Pope Benedict described the documents of the Council as “a compass guiding the ship of the Church” in our time. He explained how the Council is “the starting point for a new relationship between the Church and the modern age” in order “to show our world … the requirements of the Gospel in all its greatness and purity.”

In its pastoral letter, the CCCB Commission for Doctrine deals with the “what” and the “why” of Vatican II and its continuing importance for the Church, as well as regarding the Council documents themselves. Among the principal documents of the Council, the Commission notes the four most important (known as “Constitutions”): Sacrosanctum Concilium (on the Liturgy), Lumen Gentium (on the Church), Dei Verbum (on the Word of God), and Gaudium et Spes (on the Church in the Modern World). The Commission points out how these and other Vatican II documents continue to impact the lives of Catholics today.

At the end of its message, the Commission calls on Canadian Catholics, “with great hope, joy, and trust in the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ,” to “celebrate the 50th anniversary of the opening of this great council” and “look forward to the fruit that will continue to be borne.” Noting that the Church will also be celebrating the anniversaries of the individual conciliar documents over the next four years, the Commission encourages “priests, deacons, religious, and all the lay faithful – especially young people – to engage in a renewed reading and study of these documents with open minds so that we may all come to a more authentic and unified vision of God’s call for his Church in our time.”

Joining the Holy Father for the October 11 celebration in Rome were the Presidents of the world’s Episcopal Conferences, together with the Bishops, clergy, religious and laity involved with the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization, and a number of Bishops emeriti who had participated in the Second Vatican Council. The Most Reverend Gérald Cyprien Lacroix, Archbishop of Quebec City and Primate of the Church in Canada, represented CCCB President Archbishop Richard Smith at the celebration in the Vatican. Archbishop Smith is currently involved in celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Archdiocese of Edmonton. The Year of Faith will be celebrated from October 11, 2012, to November 24, 2013. Dioceses across Canada and around the world will be celebrating this year in various ways.