The 50th Anniversary of the Opening of the Second Vatican Council

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

Fifty years ago, on October 11th. 1962, good Pope John the Twenty-Third opened the Second Vatican Council – one of the most extraordinary achievements of the Twentieth Century.

In a series of blogs, I’ve adapted what I’ve written in my Arise reflection / letter for my wider blog readership.  I have done my best to offer my own reflections on the Council’s premier document –The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.  The topic, of course, is a serious one and I treat it at some length over several issues of the blog.

But it’s also a celebrative one and I hope you enjoy it too.

As you may know, Pope Benedict has announced a Year of Faith to begin on this October 11th and continue until the Feast of Christ the King 2013.  Here are brief excerpts from his Motu Proprio or instruction regarding the celebration:

By faith,the disciples formed the first community, gathered around the teaching of the Apostles, in prayer, in celebration of the Eucharist, holding their possessions in common so as to meet the needs of the brethren (cf. Acts 2:42-47).

By faith, across the centuries, men and women of all ages, whose names are written in the Book of Life (cf. Rev 7:9, 13:8), have confessed the beauty of following the Lord Jesus wherever they were called to bear witness to the fact that they were Christian: in the family, in the workplace, in public life, in the exercise of the charisms and ministries to which they were called.

Sisters and brothers, the Anniversary of the opening of the Council and now the Year of Faith are a time of celebration and renewal for us.  May we enjoy their celebration and the fruitfulness that will come to us in our personal lives, in our homes, in our parishes.  Or in the case of my blog readers ~ wherever you may be!

So. let’s start at the beginning.

If you’re of my generation, do you remember good Pope John the Twenty-Third?

He was supposed to be a caretaker Pope but he surprised everyone when he called for a new ecumenical Council, not a doctrinal one but a pastoral one. The bishops from all over the world assembled in St. Peter’s Basilica on October 11, 1962.   Here is an excerpt of the conclusion of his address opening the Council on that day:

The aim of the council musters the Church’s best energies and studies with all earnestness how to have the message of salvation more readily welcomed by men. By that very fact it blazes a trail that leads toward that unity of the human race, which is so necessary if this earthly realm of ours is to conform to the realm of heaven, “whose king is truth, whose law is love, whose duration is eternity.”

Thus, venerable brethren in the episcopate, “our heart is wide open to you.” Here we are assembled in this Vatican Basilica at a turning-point in the history of the Church; by Saint Peter’s tomb and the tomb of so many of Our predecessors, whose ashes in this solemn hour seem to thrill in mystic exultation.

 For with the opening of this Council a new day is dawning on the Church, bathing her in radiant splendor. It is yet the dawn, but the sun in its rising has already set our hearts aglow. All around is the fragrance of holiness and joy.

With you We see other dignitaries come to Rome from the five continents to represent their various nations. Their attitude is one of respect and warm-hearted expectation.

Hence, it is true to say that the citizens of earth and heaven are united in the celebration of this Council. The role of the saints in heaven is to supervise our labors; the role of the faithful on earth, to offer concerted prayer to God; your role, to show prompt obedience to the supernatural guidance of the Holy Spirit and to do your utmost to answer the needs and expectations of every nation on earth. To do this you will need serenity of mind, a spirit of brotherly concord, moderation in your proposals, dignity in discussion, and wisdom in deliberation.

God grant that your zeal and your labors may abundantly fulfill these aspirations. The eyes of the world are upon you; and all its hopes.

And so, the Council solemnly opened fifty years ago.  Bishops from all over the world gathered for this amazing event that turned the Catholic Church inside out.  Pope John wanted to open the windows and let in some fresh air.  And that he did!  In fact, there was  a mighty wind blowing for many a year.  Or as my friend Carey Landry would have us sing a few years later ~ “The Spirit is a-movin’ all over, all over this land!  And we sang it exuberantly.

My 93-year-old friend Monsignor George Cummings wrote me the other day in response to receiving this issue of Arise to tell me that he was present on that glorious day.  Bishop Joseph P. Hurley of St. Augustine had taken his consultors to Rome with him.

And here’s how they would have begun.  Oh, I can imagine what it was like on that historic day.  They would begin with the age-old chant invoking the Holy Spirit  to bless their work ~ the Veni Creator Spiritus.  Picture it ~ 2500 male voices.   Pope John intones the first line and they scramble to their knees.  Their song rises softly at first, then strongly, then exuberantly, then thunderously. The walls of  St. Peter’s  in all its years have never heard, never recorded such an amazing sound.  And, sadly, probably never will again.

Here is a rendition of the Veni Creator for you, this from a Pentecost Sunday Mass at Notre Dame in Paris. Turn up your speakers and enter full screen. The whole congregation is singing it!   Click here.

We’ll continue our story about the Council tomorrow.

With love,  

Bob Traupman

Contemplative Writer


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