Thursday, December 08, 2005

Forty years later . . .

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"In this assembly, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we wish to inquire how we ought to renew ourselves, so that we may be found increasingly faithful to the gospel of Christ." --statement of purpose by the Council Fathers from the Message to Humanity issued at the opening of Vatican II.

Today marks the fortieth anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council. Some papers have been prepared to mark the event, and Pope Benedict addressed it in his homily for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception at St. Peter's Basilica.

I shall not attempt to give the definitive historical take on the event here. But I did want to remark that the council documents themselves make very good reading and call for a spiritual study, as one would profit also from the study of John Paul's encyclicals and other books. This was a very different kind of council, and its documents reflect that character. I would say that they have often not been read in that way.

Pope Paul VI (who presided over most of Vatican II) wrote in his Christmas message for 1965:
"The dominant mood of the Council was inspired by the gospel image of the shepherd setting out in pursuit of the lost sheep, allowing himself no peace until he has found it. The awareness that mankind, represented with touching simplicity by the straying sheep, belongs to the Church was the guiding principle of the Council. For mankind, by a universally valid decree, does belong to the Church . . . mankind belongs to her by right of love, since the Church, no matter how distant or uncooperative or hostile mankind may be, can never be excused from loving the human race for which Christ shed his Blood."

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