The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (Vatican II)
by Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.
In 1959, to the surprise of almost everyone, Pope John XXIII announced his intention of convoking an Ecumenical Council, the twenty-first such council in the history of the Church.
The Second Vatican Council met in four segments, from Fall 1962 to Fall 1965, under the leadership of Popes John XXIII and Paul VI.
Pope John XXIII:
Life and Ecclesial Service:
Born Nov. 25, 1881, in Sotto il Monte, Bergamo, Lombardy, Italy
Sharecropper family; 4th of 13 children; oldest boy
Seminarian in Bergamo (1892-1900) and in Rome (1900-1904)
Ordained Priest 1904; Bishop 1925; Cardinal 1953; Pope 1958
Secretary to Bishop of Bergamo, and professor at seminary (1905-14)
Italian Army service: first as medical orderly, then as chaplain (1915-19)
President, Society for Propagation of Faith (1921-25)
Apostolic Visitor to Bulgaria (1925-35)
Apostolic Delegate to Turkey and Greece (Istanbul; 1935-44)
Apostolic Nuncio to France (1944-53)
Patriarch of Venice (1953-58)
Pope, Bishop of Rome (Oct. 28, 1958, to June 3, 1963)
Journal of a Soul – diary of spiritual reflections
Last one: Pacem in Terris (“Peace on earth”)
Five points of Pope John XXIII for achieving the pastoral renewal of the Church
(from his opening address on Oct. 11, 1962, as summarized by the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, pp. 21-22):
Be filled with hope and faith. Do not be prophets of gloom.
Discover ways of teaching the faith more effectively.
Deepen the understanding of doctrine.
Use the medicine of mercy (no “anathemas”).
Seek unity within the Church, with Christians separated from Catholicism, with those of non-Christian religions, and with all men and women of goodwill.
Jan. 25, 1959 - Pope John XXIII announces to a group of 17 Cardinals gathered at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls his intention of calling an Ecumenical Council (along with a Synod of the Diocese of Rome and the Reform of Canon Law)
June 18, 1959 - a letter is sent to Bishops and Catholic universities world-wide asking for suggestions for agenda items to be discussed at the council
June 5, 1960 - Pope John issues a motu proprio announcing the formation of various preparatory commissions
Dec. 25, 1961 - Pope John issues a papal bull, Humanae Salutis, formally convoking the Second Vatican Council
July 20, 1962 - invitations are sent to separated Christians inviting them to send observers to the council
Sept. 5, 1962 - Pope John issues a motu proprio announcing the heads of ten council commissions, along with rules and procedures for the conduct of the council
Sept. 11, 1962 - Pope John asks the whole world to pray for the council
2012-13 - "Year of Faith" proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the opening of Vatican II
The Sixteen Documents of Vatican II:
The bishops assembled at the Second Vatican Council debated, amended, voted on, and eventually
approved and published sixteen documents covering a wide variety of topics, some
on internal ecclesial issues and some on the relationship of the Church to various
other people in our world. The four largest and most important documents are called "Constitutions,"
while the shorter documents dealing with more particular issues are either called
"Decrees" or "Declarations." These documents are foundational for a proper understanding of
Catholic Christianity today, but are still in the
process of being implemented fully.
In 1985, twenty years after the conclusion of Vatican II, the Second Extraordinary Synod of Bishops met to reflect on the importance and the implementation of the teachings of the Council. The Synod's "Final Report" includes several criteria for the proper interpretation of the Documents of Vatican II:
The theological interpretation of the conciliar doctrine must show attention to all the documents, in themselves and in their close inter-relationship, in such a way that the integral meaning of the Council's affirmations--often very complex--might be understood and expressed.
Special attention must be paid to the four major Constitutions of the Council, which contain the interpretative key for the other Decrees and Declarations.
It is not licit to separate the pastoral character from the doctrinal vigor of the documents.
In the same way, it is not licit to separate the spirit and the letter of the Council.
Moreover, the Council must be understood in continuity with the great tradition of the Church,
and at the same time we must receive light from the Council's own doctrine for today's Church and the people of our time. The Church is one and the same throughout all the councils.
(Source: "The Church, in the Word of God, Celebrates the Mysteries of Christ for the Salvation of the World"; par. 5)