Lecture series celebrates 50th anniversary of Vatican II’s opening

By | October 17, 2012

“The church was not afraid of its past,” said Wadell. “It was not afraid of wrestling with what O’Malley calls the ‘ghost of the 19th century.’ For the Catholic Church, the 19th century continued into the 20th.”

Abbey Lecture Series

The next lecture in the series will be Nov. 8. Sr. Shawn Madigan and Sr. Judy Miller will present “Rights and Responsibilities of the Laity: Has the Church Kept Its Promise?” For more information, go to the abbey website.

The encyclicals by Pope Pius X condemning modernism serve as an example of the 19th century continuing into the 20th. Fr. Angelo Roncalli, who later became Pope John XXIII, was investigated on suspicions of modernism after he gave a lecture on faith and science at a seminary in Italy.

Pope John XXIII was elected pope on Oct. 28, 1958. On Jan. 25, 1959, the feast of the conversion of St. Paul, he announced the call for the council.

“I don’t think that was accidental that John chose that day to say he was going to call the council,” said Wadell. “He compared the church to a house in which the windows had been shut for so long that when you walked in that house, you couldn’t breathe. John said that the church needed to throw open those windows to let in the fresh air of the Spirit. The cardinals and bishops who were there that day sat in stunned silence. There wasn’t even polite applause. His announcement shocked them.”

Pope John XXIII’s age also made the announcement surprising to many, added Wadell. The pope was 76, about to turn 77, when he was elected.

“People expected him to be a caretaker pope who would keep things as they were,” said Wadell. “Previous councils were called to respond to a crisis. There seemed to be no crisis in the Catholic Church in early 1959. (So the bishops felt) If it’s not broke, why fix it.”

The cardinals and bishops who did not want Vatican II, referred to as the Prophets of Doom by Pope John XXIII, tried to talk him out of it. The pope believed that “the church had to read the signs of the time to discern how God may be working in the world,” said Wadell.

Another sign of hope unleashed by the council was how it saw itself as a work in progress. Wadell pointed to Gaudium et Spes, the document on the church in the modern world, as an example. The language of Gaudium et Spes, approved on the final day, sounds so much different from the document on the liturgy, the first document approved, he explained. The style, form and language of Vatican II also brought hope, he added.

“The past councils were legislative, issuing anathemas,” said Wadell. “The bishops of Vatican II rejected that form of a council. Vatican II was to be a new beginning for the church, not more of the same.”

O’Malley describes the vocabulary embraced at the council as “equality” and “humility” words. That change in language from past councils is very important, said Wadell.

“Our language captures how we see things,” he said. “Our language tells us who we are. Vatican II speaks a very different vocabulary. When your vocabulary shifts from demands to invitations, from threats to persuasion, from exclusion to inclusion, that is a sign of hope.”

According to Wadell, the most important reason Vatican II unleashed so much hope in the church is the documents.

“The documents of Vatican II show the church undergoing a long, overdue conversion,” he said. “It leaves one paradigm of understanding itself for another one. Lumen Gentium, the council’s document on the church, unleashes hope as a mystery, a spiritual reality, a communion of those joined together in Christ. The Spirit dwells in the hearts of all the faithful. We can learn from one another. We need to listen to one another.”

Wadell also emphasized the importance of the document on ecumenism, Unitatas Redintegratio, (One Faith, One Church) and pointed to Gaudium et Spes as the document that “captures the vision of the council better than any other document.”

According to Wadell, reasons why the hope of Vatican II was never fully realized include that the church had few structures for implementing the council’s teaching. Pope Paul VI entrusted the future of the council to some cardinals and bishops who were opposed to it, which also limited its effectiveness. Many bishops, upon returning to their dioceses, did not stress the importance of the council enough, he continued.

“Some like John McQuaid, the archbishop of Dublin, went out of their way to convince people that the council never intended much change in the first place,” said Wadell.

The first reason for hope today is that Vatican II really happened. It was an actual event.

“It cannot be erased, cannot be dismissed, cannot be trivialized,” said Wadell. “The second sign of hope is more and more Catholics are finding their voice. They are embracing the opportunity that Vatican II called them to and entrusted to them.”

The third sign of hope is Catholic theology, he added.

“Before Vatican II, nearly every Catholic theologian was a priest,” said Wadell. “Today there are many more voices. There is a rich diversity of voices.”

Wadell closed by taking questions and comments. For those interested in reading the Vatican II documents in an easy to understand format, the following website was promoted: http://vaticantwo.wordpress.com/daily-reading-plan. Wadell suggested a day of dialogue, where people could openly discuss the church, as a good means of building on the hopes of Vatican II.

The lecture series serves as an opportunity to enhance celebration of the Year of Faith. In his pastoral letter, “Parishes: Called to be Holy, Full Engaged, Fully Alive,” Bishop David Ricken presents six pastoral focus areas, one of which is education, including adult faith formation.

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