by Kenneth D. Whitehead
Some people were perhaps surprised when one of the first things Pope Benedict XVI spoke about immediately following his election to the chair of Peter was the need -- and his intention -- to carry on with the implementation of Vatican Council II. In his initial message to the cardinals the day after his election, the new pope called for what he described as “an authoritative re-reading of the Second Vatican Council”, and he then went on to state that:
… as I prepare myself for the service that is proper to the Successor of Peter, I also wish to confirm my determination to continue to put the Second Vatican Council into practice, following in the footsteps of my Predecessors and in faithful continuity with the 2,000-year tradition of the Church. This very year  marks the 40th anniversary of the conclusion of the Council (8 December 1965). As the years have passed, the Conciliar Documents have lost none of their timeliness; indeed, their teachings are proving particularly relevant to the new situation of the Church and the current globalized society. (Initial Message of Pope Benedict XVI to the Cardinals, April 20, 2005)
No one who had followed his career should have been surprised that Benedict XVI would speak about the Council in this fashion. Similarly, anybody who paid close attention to the words and actions of Pope John Paul II in the course of his long pontificate should not have been surprised that he too was constantly having recourse to the Council. Immediately following his election in 1978, John Paul II declared that:
…we wish to point out the unceasing importance of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, and we accept the definite duty of assiduously bringing it into effect. Indeed, is not that universal Council a kind of milestone, as it were, an event of the utmost importance in the almost two thousand year history of the Church, and consequently in the religious and cultural history of the world? (To the Cardinals and to the World, October 17, 1978)
John Paul II’s pronouncements on the Council were frequent and were usually in much the same vein. As only one example among the very many references to the Council that we could cite, in an address to the Plenary Assembly of the Sacred College delivered on November 9, 1979, the Polish pope affirmed that:
Obedience to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council is obedience to the Holy Spirit, who is given to the Church in order to remind her at every stage of history of everything that Christ said, in order to teach the Church all things (cf. Jn 14:26). Obedience to the Holy Spirit is expressed in the authentic carrying out of the tasks indicated by the Council, in full accordance with the teaching set forth therein.
These tasks cannot be treated as if they did not exist. It is not possible to claim to make the Church go back.…
More than a quarter of a century later, near the end of his pontificate, John Paul II was continuing to say the same thing. In his Spiritual Testament published in the English Edition of L’Osservatore Romano on April 13, 2005 -- after the pope’s death -- he wrote that “I am convinced that it will be long granted to the new generations to draw from the treasures that this 20th century Council has lavished upon us”.
Both John Paul II and Benedict XVI can be considered, above all, “men of the Council”. The Council formed the lives and careers of both. Both served prominently at the Council. The recently appointed Archbishop Karol Wojtyla of Krakow intervened in a number of important ways in the course of the Council’s work, sometimes in the name of all the Polish bishops, and sometimes individually in his own right. He became increasingly influential toward the end of the Council, when he served on one of the committees working on the basic draft for what became Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes (“Joy and Hope”).
At the Council, Father Joseph Ratzinger was a peritus, or theological expert and advisor, and he was an unusually influential one, especially considering how young he was at the time; but then he had the providential good fortune of being a peritus for Cardinal Joseph Frings of Cologne, Germany, who was one of the major movers-and-shakers at the Council. Among other issues on which he worked, the young Father Ratzinger was one of the two principal drafters of the really beautiful theological text that constitutes the first part of the Council’s Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity, Ad Gentes
A great number of those who have admired both John Paul II and his longtime prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger -- like many who have been critical or have expressed their disapproval of one or both of them -- are often nevertheless alike in failing to realize the degree to which both of them must be considered “men of the Council”. John Paul II was widely considered to be a “restorationist”, wedded to tradition and bent on bringing back aspects and practices of the Church considered by many to be “pre-conciliar”.
Cardinal Ratzinger, for his part, was almost universally considered to be “the enforcer”, insisting upon strict doctrinal purity in his role as CDF prefect, at a time when it was thought by many that Vatican II had quite deliberately downplayed Catholic doctrine in favor of opening up the Church to the world. Any preoccupation with doctrine was considered narrow and somewhat anachronistic and was, again, thought to be “pre-conciliar”.
These characterizations of both of these Churchmen who became popes were quite commonly made by observers coming from both the “right” and the “left” (if we may employ these political terms at least figuratively when referring to trends and tendencies in the Church). As characterizations, however, they are fundamentally mistaken; they are caricatures, in fact. Throughout the ecclesiastical careers of both Wojtyla and Ratzinger, both constantly had recourse to Vatican II in practically everything they said or did. Both were well aware, of course, that not everything had worked out in the post-conciliar era in the way that the Council Fathers had envisaged and hoped. Nevertheless, as pontiff, Pope John Paul II regularly accentuated the positive about the Council, and, since his election, Pope Benedict XVI has been doing the same thing. Indeed, it can be said that both pontificates have been and are basically inspired by Vatican II.
More than forty years later, we are right to be looking back again at what was so important about the Council. Another very influential theologian and peritus at the Council, Father Yves J.-M. Congar, O.P., once quoted French president General Charles DeGaulle as saying that Vatican Council II was “the most important event in the twentieth century”.
That’s not the most important religious or ecclesiastical event in the twentieth century; that’s the most important event, period. This judgment may seem rather startling upon first hearing, but we should try to understand what DeGaulle was driving at. If the Catholic Church indeed represents the authentic extension in history of the words and works of Jesus Christ, the redeemer of mankind, as the Church believes and teaches; if the salvation of the world is indeed intimately if mysteriously tied in to this ancient institution that has now survived and grown down through the vicissitudes of twenty centuries to be the oldest institution in the world today, at the same time as it continues to grow and spread and is now present virtually worldwide; if God’s plan for mankind is indeed linked to the fortunes of this institution, as Vatican II itself held and taught in various ways -- if these things are true, then when this utterly unique institution, the Catholic Church, decides to convoke the twenty-first in her long series of general or ecumenical councils -- approximately one each century -- then this has got to be an event of great importance by any standard. And perhaps, sub specie aeternitatis (and as Charles DeGaulle judged), the renewal of the Catholic Church beginning in the twentieth century was the most important event in the century just past!
Even though the dreams and intentions of Blessed Pope John XXIII in calling the Council have not been fully realized -- or have not yet been fully realized -- it is important to recall why a Council was thought necessary by him. Blessed John XXIII gave three reasons. The first, as he said in his famous and still often-quoted Opening Address to the Council delivered on October 11, 1962, was this: that “the greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously”. So far from Vatican II being a non-doctrinal council focused merely on new ideas and initiatives, the preservation and proclamation of Christ’s truths, as taught by the Church, was thus Pope John’s first reason for calling the Council.
The faith of the Church needed to be renewed, he thought, in order that it might be more effectively disseminated by means of a new evangelization. He wanted the Church to reach out more positively to a world always so much in need of Christ’s truths. Pope John considered the Church’s faith to be solidly established and beyond dispute, and so for him it was merely a matter of getting the word out more effectively. He did not anticipate the wave of doctrinal dissent that came in after the Council and is unfortunately still with us in so many respects today.
If the jovial and saintly pope considered the renewal and spread of the Catholic faith to be his first reason for convoking an ecumenical council, his second reason was to launch a renewed effort to seek reunion with other Christians not in communion with the Catholic Church. He had worked in the East among the Eastern Orthodox, and he was scandalized by Christian disunity and separation, especially in the face of the growing secularization of the modern world.
Finally, as a third reason, good Pope John wanted an adaptation and updating (aggiornamento) of the Church’s practices and discipline in order to meet the needs of the Church at the present day.
Forty plus years after the Council, it has been Pope John’s aggiornamento, including the various practical reforms carried out at the behest of the Council -- and especially including the reform of the sacred liturgy -- that have had the greatest impact on most Catholics. Some people even think that “change” was the main thing the Council was all about.
This brings us to the question of what the Council actually did do -- as contrasted with what many people still think “the spirit of Vatican II” stood for. For as everybody knows, there has been a great deal of confusion and not a few false starts following the Council, and so it is important to know and keep in mind what the Council did do that remains permanently valid.
The Council issued sixteen documents in all, and it is these documents that today constitute the Council’s basic legacy to the Church. These documents remain both vital and operative today, and they are still being referred to and relied on by Church authorities, especially the popes, even as the memories of the Council itself recede into history.
I want to look very briefly at highlights of the six most important of the documents of Vatican II. I recommend, however, if you have not done so, that you procure a copy of the documents of Vatican II, and establish a plan to read through them on whatever timetable your life circumstances permit. Your faith life will be very greatly enhanced thereby, I promise. And if you already have read all or some of them, I recommend that you go back to them again. They are worth it.
But now I want to summarize, very briefly, the six Vatican II documents that I consider to be the most important among them.
The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, approved December 6, 1963
The reform of the liturgy mandated for the Roman rite of the Catholic Church by the second Vatican Council has probably affected more Catholics in more ways than all of the other enactments of the Council put together. Sacrosanctum Concilium (“Sacred Council”), the first document approved by the Council, set this liturgical reform in motion by observing that “Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy, and to which the Christian people, ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people’ (I Pet 2:9; 4-5), have a right and obligation by reason of their baptism”. (SC 14)
If you are still asking why the Council made all the changes in the liturgy, the answer is that the Council Fathers wanted “full, conscious, and active” participation by the faithful. Whether this was a wise and necessary decision on their part will have to be the subject of another discussion on another occasion: it happened. Vatican II did mandate a reform of the liturgy and authorities of the Church carried that reform out.
In my opinion, the Church was, in fact, probably overdue for a liturgical reform at the time of the Council, but, as everyone knows, the actual reform has been far from an unalloyed success. Too many people, including many pastors and bishops, apparently decided that the fact that the Church was officially making changes in her liturgy meant that henceforth “change” was going to the order of the day. As a result, not a few changes hardly envisaged by the Council got incorporated into the mix.
Some of these changes proved unsettling to many of the faithful, particularly as regards the move from Latin to the vernacular (only decided upon definitively after the Council, when the various bishops’ conferences of the world opted for the vernacular virtually everywhere, and petitioned Rome to allow it).
The misapplication of Vatican II in accordance with a supposed “spirit of Vatican II” has been particularly evident in some of the liturgical abuses and excesses encountered in the post-conciliar era. This, in fact, is one of the main reasons why we need to go back and read the actual documents enacted by the Council. In the present case, Sacrosanctum Concilium is a very sane and balanced and even beautiful document, which still provides a wonderful account of what the Church’s liturgy is and what a reform of it should be -- or should have been.
Only now, more than forty years after the Council -- and especially over the past ten years, since the advent of Cardinal Medina and then Cardinal Arinze at the head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in Rome -- can it be said that the reformed vernacular liturgy in most places is now coming to approximate what Vatican II originally called for. In particular, with the issuance of a revised General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) in 2001, followed by a reorganization of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), we are now able to look forward -- within the next year or two -- to an adequate translation into English of the Church’s sacred liturgy.
The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, approved on November 21, 1964
Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium (“Light of the Nations”) represents the Catholic Church’s greatest single effort in her entire history to describe what she is and what she does. Nowhere is the Church’s self-understanding, or her nature and mission as the sacrament of human salvation, more fully or better expressed than in this, the most important of all the Vatican II documents. Contrary to the idea popular with some people that Vatican II transformed the Church into nothing more than “the people of God” -- often wrongly understood “democratically” -- this Dogmatic Constitution strongly reaffirmed the Christ-established visible and hierarchical nature and structure of the Church as well as this has been done in any other Church document.
The document includes the teachings that “the Roman Pontiff, Peter’s successor, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church, has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church” (LG 22); and that “in matters of faith and morals … loyal submission of the will and intellect … must be given to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he does not speak ex cathedra”. (LG 25)
Yet Lumen Gentium did include a chapter entitled “the people of God”. The purpose of this chapter was not to transform the Church into a democracy but rather to remind the faithful that religion and the worship of the divine Majesty are not just matters for, say, priests or religious -- the “professionals” in the Church -- they are for everybody: all “the people of God”.
It is this document too that contains Vatican II’s by now well-known -- if not famous -- “universal call to holiness”. And it contains other riches as well, for example, the fundamental idea behind the Council’s Decree on Ecumenism, which we shall consider next, namely, that professing Christians separated from visible unity with the Catholic Church are not just “wrong” and “in error”. Rather, there are to be found among them “many elements of sanctification and truth” (LG 8), including belief in Jesus and often at least the sacrament of Baptism.
Lumen Gentium bears reading and re-reading. It is an education in the faith by itself, showing among other things how the Church of Christ is already nothing else but “the Kingdom of Christ … already present in mystery”. (LG 8)
Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio, approved on November 24, 1964
Most people are aware that the Catholic Church at Vatican II significantly changed her approach to those Christians outside her visible boundaries from a position that called for waiting passively for the “return” to the true Church of the lost sheep to a more active policy whereby the Church, like the good shepherd in the parable, would henceforth go out in search of those lost sheep. (cf. Mt 18:12) In effecting this change of approach, the Council Fathers picked up on their own teaching in Lumen Gentium that non-Catholic Christians usually possessed at least some “elements of sanctification and truth” -- in other words, that their Christian glass was not just half empty; it was half full.
Building on this basic idea, the Council Fathers issued their Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio (“Restoration of Unity”), which developed a set of ecumenical principles whereby Catholics might henceforth participate in ecumenical dialogue and, under certain circumstances, in joint prayer or worship, with non-Catholic Christians, aimed at helping to clear away the obstacles to Christian reunion. The principles developed by the Council included: avoiding blame or harsh judgments against separated brethren; engaging in honest and sincere dialogue with them in order to see what agreements might possibly be reached; engaging in common charitable works; and praying together when possible.
As a result of the adoption of these principles, the Catholic Church, in the last forty years, has pretty much taken over the leadership of the worldwide ecumenical movement, as you can readily verify by consulting the section of the latest Catholic Almanac entitled “Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue”, where a running record is kept of all the interfaith dialogues, joint ecumenical declarations, and the like that have taken place since Vatican II. Christian unity may not have been achieved as yet -- although the Catholic Church may be close to reunion with some of the Ancient Churches of the East that have been in schism for some sixteen hundred years -- but it is remarkable what agreements have been reached between previously warring Churches.
At the same time as Vatican II launched the Church into today’s organized ecumenical activity, it is of interest -- as it is somewhat ironic -- that Unitatis Redintegratio is the Vatican II document in which it is stated most clearly that the Catholic Church has not relinquished her claim to be the one, true Church of Christ. The document states in this regard:
… For it is through Christ’s Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help towards salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained. It was to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, that we believe Our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant, in order to establish on earth the one Body of Christ into which all those should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the people of God. (UR 3)
Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, approved on November 18, 1965
This second of the Council’s three “constitutions”, “The Word of God”, is an enormously important document that explains the Church’s contemporary understanding of sacred Scripture, following upon more than two centuries of modern biblical scholarship, which has tended to “demythologize” Scripture (to employ the term coined by one of the most distinguished modern German practitioners of biblical scholarship, Rudolph Bultmann) and which has thereby contributed to today’s widespread disbelief in the Bible as divine revelation -- as God’s Word to mankind. Many people today, including many Christians, have long been in varying degrees of disarray because of the questions raised and the doubts cast upon the credibility of sacred Scripture by modern biblical scholarship.
However, this has not fundamentally been a problem for the Catholic Church -- just as evolution too, regardless of how modern science may explain it, has never posed the kind of problem for the Catholic Church that it poses today for many Bible Christians. Though it remains very mysterious that God should have chosen to reveal Himself to mankind in the way that He has, as recorded in the Bible, the fact remains that the Bible is the Word of God, as the Catholic Church firmly teaches, precisely in this document, Dei Verbum.
Fully aware of the questions raised by modern biblical scholarship, but also possessed of knowledgeable and sophisticated answers to them that are in no way incompatible with truly established modern scientific knowledge, this major conciliar document concisely but accurately validates the Church’s traditional understanding of sacred Scripture. It states conclusively that “the Christian economy … since it is the new and definite covenant, will never pass away; and no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. I Tim 6:14 and Tit 2:13)” (DV 4)
It is of special interest that it is in this document that the Magisterium of the Catholic Church has officially confirmed what nineteenth-century English Cardinal John Henry Newman famously formulated and described as “the development of doctrine”. Revealed truth does not change but it does “develop” in the sense that it can become better stated and understood. The actual words of the Council’s text state that “the tradition that comes from the apostles makes progress in the Church, with the help of the Holy Spirit. There is a growth in insight into the words and realities that are being passed on”. (DV 8, emphasis added)
Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, approved on December 7, 1965
A “pastoral constitution” was a new kind of Church document in which the Council Fathers hoped to provide more concrete guidance to the faithful regarding problems encountered in the complicated world of today. Thus, Gaudium et Spes was divided up into two sections, consisting in the first part of the Church’s basic teachings about the human person and the world inhabited by human beings; this included specific treatments of atheism, the community of mankind and the common good, man’s place in the universe, and the relationship between the Church and the world.
In the second part of the document, there was an attempt to apply these Church teachings to what the Council called “the more urgent problems of the day” (GS 46ff.), including marriage and the family, culture, economic and social life, political life, and war and peace. The first part of the document was intended to contain authentic Church doctrinal statements on the subjects being covered, while the second part dealt with what the Council styled more “contingent” statements.
Although there are many fine statements and passages of great importance and even beauty in this, the longest of the Council’s documents, this new venture of the Council Fathers, called by them Gaudium et Spes, was probably too ambitious, and in some ways it is not an entire success. In some places the text seems a bit thin and in other places it now seems a bit dated.
The distinction the Council Fathers wanted to make between the doctrinal part -- to which the loyal assent of the faithful is presumably required -- and the second, “contingent” part containing some material with which the faithful might be permitted to disagree, sometimes tends to blur the lines between what must be accepted by the faithful because it is taught authoritatively by the Church’s Magisterium, and, on the other hand, what might actually be “optional” for faithful Catholics.
I do not intend to belittle this document or downgrade its importance. I just want to describe its place among the sixteen documents issued by the Council. Gaudium et Spes should in no way be neglected today. It contains too much that is not only valuable, but may even be essential in some cases, for a proper understanding of how the Church and the faith relate to the modern world. For example, the document’s treatment of human dignity in its Chapter I of Part I (GS 12-22), represents the Council’s very prescient statement of principles that has proved absolutely essential today for facing up to and dealing with the challenges to human dignity that we are seeing in such areas as contemporary developments in biotechnology -- not to speak of the challenge of contemporary terrorism which, above all, is based on disregard of, if not actual contempt for, the dignity of human persons as beings made in the image of God.
Pope John Paul II, as a young recently appointed bishop at Vatican II, had a hand in crafting Gaudium et Spes, and in his own extensive teaching Magisterium as pope, he constantly had recourse to two statements from this particular document which he quoted more regularly and more frequently than perhaps anything else he took from the teaching patrimony of the Church that he had inherited. The two passages in question are:
…It is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear (GS #22).
…Man is the only creature on earth that God wanted for its own sake, [and] man can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself (GS #24).
These two basic ideas from Gaudium et Spes were never far from the mind of Pope John Paul II in the entire course of his long pontificate.
Declaration on Religious Liberty, Dignitatis Humanae, approved on December 7, 1965
The Declaration on Religious Liberty, Dignitatis Humanae (“Human Dignity”), is one of the greatest single achievements of the Second Vatican Council. As its Latin title makes clear, it deals with one of the greatest problems confronting humanity today, namely, the recognition and protection of basic human dignity. As everybody knows, and as we too have just mentioned, human dignity is under steady and unrelenting assault today from a number of quarters, including especially from our contemporary Frankenstein-style scientists engaged in such evils as cloning and embryonic stem-cell research as well as from, say, teen-aged terrorists willing to strap bombs around their waists in order to enable them to blow themselves up inside crowded pizza parlors -- or, let us say, fly hijacked passenger airliners into skyscrapers.
Human dignity was similarly under assault at the time of the Council. Then it was the totalitarian regimes of the day -- German Nazism and Italian Fascism, only recently defeated, as well as a still existing and very strong and oppressive Soviet Communism -- that helped convince the Council Fathers that the urgent question of religious freedom -- the freedom of human beings to live and act according to their consciences -- must be addressed and answered by the Church. Dignitatis Humanae accomplished that purpose.
It is not without interest that, as Pope Benedict XVI himself recently noted, the American bishops at the Council were quite instrumental in securing the passage of Dignitatis Humanae -- just as the American Jesuit theologian, Father John Courtney Murray, was very influential in preparing the draft of it.
In spite of its great importance, however, the document has not been uniformly appreciated by all Catholics. Some Catholic traditionalists, looking back at certain nineteenth-century teachings of Blessed Pope Pius IX and Pope Leo XIII -- teachings that dealt with the duties of the state and public officials in Catholic countries toward the true religion -- have made the claim that this Declaration on Religious Liberty actually departs from the Catholic tradition and is heretical. In fact, the document addresses a wholly different question from the one that concerned the nineteenth-century popes struggling to preserve the freedom of the Church from Europe’s then newly minted anti-clerical governments. The question Dignitatis Humanae addresses is rather the basic right of the human person to be “immune from coercion on the part of individuals, social groups, and every human power so that, within due limits, nobody is forced to act against his convictions in religious matters, in public or in private, alone or in association with others”. (DH 2)
Freedom from coercion is the basic idea here, and such freedom does accord with the Church’s long tradition. The Church has always taught that, even though the faith is held to be God’s truth, its adoption must nevertheless always stem from the voluntary free act of a person. Even in the Catholic Middle Ages, the Church forbade efforts to coerce Jews or other non-Christians into accepting conversion. And at Vatican II the Church declared that this freedom from coercion must be “based on the very dignity of the human person as known through the revealed Word of God and by reason itself” (DH #2).
It is perhaps ironic that, just as Vatican II’s clearest statement that the Catholic Church remains the one, true Church of Christ is found in the Council’s Decree on Ecumenism, as we have noted above; so the Council’s clearest statement that Christians are strictly obliged to form their consciences in accordance with the teaching of the Church comes in this document on freedom from coercion in matters of belief and conscience. The document even states that religious beliefs that are false -- not taught by the Church or even contrary to what the Church teaches -- must nevertheless be respected because of the human dignity even of those who do not believe in the true religion. The Church at the Council could not have been more clear on this point.
At the same time, Dignitatis Humanae declares with equal clarity -- in one of the most important single statements of the Second Vatican Council -- that:
…In forming their consciences, the faithful must pay careful attention to the sacred and certain teaching of the Church. For the Catholic Church is by the will of Christ the teacher of truth. It is her duty to proclaim and teach with authority the truth which is Christ and, at the same time, to declare and confirm by her authority the principles of the moral order which spring from human nature itself. (DH 14, emphasis added)
This is what the Church at Vatican II said about the binding and obligatory character for the faithful of her own teachings. As Jesus said long ago to His apostles in a statement intended to apply both to them and their successors, the bishops, some 2500 of whom were the Council Fathers who issued this teaching: “He who hears you hears me” (Lk 10:16).
Enough has now been said here about the Council and its documents, I hope, to bring about a possible reconsideration on your part if you had any doubts or questions about the Council. And even if you have never been anything but fully accepting of the Council -- always with its admittedly mixed results to date! -- I nevertheless hope you will go back to the Council and its documents, the importance of which I believe I have demonstrated here.
We can surely now see why both Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI, upon being elected to the chair of Peter, announced as their first order of business their intention of continuing to “implement” Vatican II. And perhaps Charles DeGaulle was onto something too when he judged Vatican Council II to have been the most important event in the twentieth century.
Kenneth D. Whitehead’s new book, What Vatican II Did Right: Forty Years after the Council and Counting, is forthcoming from Ignatius Press. A new revised edition of the book he co-authored in 1981, The Pope, the Council, and the Mass, is forthcoming from Emmaus Road Publishers.
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