Vatican Council, Second

Vatican Council, Second, popularly called Vatican II, 1962–65, the 21st ecumenical council (see council, ecumenical) of the Roman Catholic Church, convened by Pope John XXIII and continued under Paul VI. Its announced purpose was spiritual renewal of the church and reconsideration of the position of the church in the modern world. The most spectacular innovation of the council, which convened Oct. 11, 1962, was the invitation extended to Protestant and Orthodox Eastern churches to send observers; the meetings were attended by representatives from many of those churches. Another obvious feature was the diversity of national and cultural origins shown among those who attended from all over the world.

One of the announced aims of the conference was to consider reform of the liturgy, primarily to bring the layman into closer participation in the church services and therefore to encourage some diversity in language and practice. Great emphasis was also laid from the beginning upon the pastoral duties of the bishops, as distinguished from administrative duties. The procedure at the conference accorded with democratic practice, and there was lively debate between the progressive and conservative groups. By the time of its adjournment the council had issued four constitutions, nine decrees, and three declarations. The nature of these statements was conciliatory, avoiding rigid definitions and condemning anathemas.

Session II (Sept.–Dec., 1963) produced the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (permitting vernacularization of the liturgy and stressing greater lay participation in the ritual) and the decree on the media of social communication. Out of Session III (Sept.–Nov., 1964) came the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (which espoused the principle of episcopal collegiality with the pope), the decrees on ecumenism and on the Eastern Catholic churches, and the proclamation of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Mother of the Church.

Pope Paul VI opened Session IV (Sept.–Dec., 1965) with the announcement that he was establishing an episcopal synod to assist the pope in governing the church. That final session issued the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World; the decrees on the bishops' pastoral office, on the appropriate renewal of the religious life (i.e., the life of the religious orders), on education for the priesthood, on the ministry and life of priests, on the apostolate of the laity, and on the church's missionary activity; and declarations on Christian education, on religious freedom, and on the relationship of the church to non-Christian religions (which included an important passage condemning anti-Semitism and recognizing the bond that spiritually ties the people of the New Covenant to Abraham's stock). Even before the close of the council Pope Paul began to establish a series of commissions to implement the council's wide-ranging decisions.


See H. Küng, The Council, Reform, and Reunion (tr. 1962); H. Daniel-Rops, The Second Vatican Council (tr. 1962); D. C. Pawley, An Anglican View of the Vatican Council (1962, repr. 1973); W. M. Abbot, ed., Documents of Vatican II (1966); A. Gilbert, The Vatican Council and the Jews (1968); X. Rynne, Vatican Council II (1968); A. Flannery, ed., Vatican Council II: Constitutions, Decrees, Declarations (repr. 1996) and Vatican Council II: Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents (2 vol., repr. 1996).

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