In a few short weeks the Catholic Church around the world will be embarking upon a very special project. It’s been called the Year of Faith – a thirteen-and-a-half month year in which all of us are invited to deepen our faith and personal conversion.
(Yeah, it’s a 13.5 month year. No one ever accused Catholics of being great at math. Heh.)
But there’s something else, something fundamentally important for this upcoming Year of Faith that I wish to call to your attention. The Year of Faith begins on Oct. 11, 2012. This date is no accident. It is the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. Now, these councils where all the Catholic bishops get together are relatively rare. Vatican I was held in the late 1860s. The Council of Trent was in the 16th century. Other councils happened before this, often to resolve some important doctrinal issues. Vatican II was held from Oct. 11, 1962 to December 8, 1965. It produced much discussion and 16 amazing documents that are meant to help guide and inspire the actions of the Church.
There is a problem that I’ve often encountered with respect to Vatican II, however. Unfortunately, the first reaction I get from far too many people when Vatican II is mentioned goes something like: “Vatican II? Isn’t it that the thing that changed the Mass and stuff?” Or, “Vatican II? Now we can have the Mass in English!” Or, “Vatican II? That’s that scary thing that changed too much of our liturgy.”
Umm. No. Not exactly.
Yes, liturgical reforms were called for by the Council and were implemented in the years following it. But Vatican II is so much more than this!
In a recent document for the Year of Faith, Porta Fidei, Pope Benedict XVI wrote the following (par. 5):
It seemed to me that timing the launch of the Year of Faith to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council would provide a good opportunity to help people understand that the texts bequeathed by the Council Fathers, in the words of Blessed John Paul II, “have lost nothing of their value or brilliance. They need to be read correctly, to be widely known and taken to heart as important and normative texts of the Magisterium, within the Church’s Tradition … I feel more than ever in duty bound to point to the Council as the great grace bestowed on the Church in the twentieth century: there we find a sure compass by which to take our bearings in the century now beginning.”
So let’s take the pope at his word: let’s (re)read these documents together during this Year of Faith.
The documents of Vatican II are freely available online.
Confused about where to start? Don’t worry! Here is an interesting guide to help you read through the documents. In short: There are 4 major documents (called “constitutions”), and Dr. D’Ambrosio recommends reading the first (and shortest) one first – Dei Verbum. That’s not bad advice.
I’m planning to re-read these documents as well… and (hopefully) to post some brief reflections as I go.