To help the faithful commemorate the diocesan year of celebration, the Catholic Advance will have a monthly section with articles about the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the Diocese of Wichita, or about the Year of Faith.
“Christianity must never be seen as something from the past, nor lived with one’s gaze always looking back, because Jesus is yesterday, today and for all eternity,” Pope Benedict XVI
By Molly Martin
The Catholic Church marked the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council on Oct. 11, 2012 – an event portrayed by some to be the greatest achievement of the church and the most influential religious event of the 20th century.
The 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is honored by the Year of Faith, as called by Pope Benedict XVI, beginning Oct. 11, 2012, and ending Nov. 24, 2013.
As we honor the 50th anniversary of Vatican II and its impact on the Catholic Church and our diocese, the opportunity arises to reflect on its history, and influence on our diocese.
The History of the Second Vatican Council
The newly elected Pope John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council on Jan. 25, 1959. The announcement of his intention to call a council surprised many, as it was only the 21st council in the church’s 2,000-year history.
The council prior, the First Vatican Council, was called from 1869 to 1870 – a time in which modern technology and the simplicity of electricity was not available. The First Vatican council dealt with issues such as rationalism, liberalism, and most notably papal infallibility, three centuries after the Council of Trent. The council ended in 1870, however was formally closed in 1960 in anticipation of the opening of the first session of the Second Vatican Council.
On Oct. 11, 1962, the Second Vatican Council, or 21st ecumenical council, formally opened as a procession of more than 2,000 bishops filed into St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Bishops and council fathers from around the world gathered in Rome for this historic event.
“There was a great atmosphere of renewal,” said Monsignor John Gilsenan, senior priest in residence at St. Catherine Siena in Wichita, who was in Rome during the beginning of the second session of the council. “A great sense of hope of reunion and better understanding between the churches.”
Pope John XXIII openly stated he wished the council’s accomplishments would “throw open the windows of the Church” to the modern world in an effort to renew the Catholic faith.
“What was happening was the church was becoming more isolated from the modern world, bringing about the aggiornamento, the renewal of the church,” said Monsignor Gilsenan. “Opening the windows, the church would listen to the needs of the people, the needs of the world and would shape the message to the question of what people were asking.”
Unlike previous councils, there was not a distinct motive for calling this council aside from the effort to renew the church for the present and future. The Second Vatican Council’s intent was based on a preemptive effort to “renew” the church, as opposed to responding to a threat.
Monsignor remarked that before the council, the church was answering questions that people were not asking. The modern church responds to what the people were asking, as made evident by Pope John XXIII in his opening address.
“What is needed at the present time is a new enthusiasm, a new joy and serenity of mind in the unreserved acceptance by all of the entire Christian faith, without forfeiting that accuracy and precision in its presentation which characterized the proceedings of the Council of Trent and the First Vatican Council,” said Pope John XXIII in his opening address to the council.
“What is needed, and what everyone imbued with a truly Christian, Catholic and apostolic spirit craves today, is that this doctrine shall be more widely known, more deeply understood, and more penetrating in its effects on men’s moral lives. What is needed is that this certain and immutable doctrine, to which the faithful owe obedience, be studied afresh and reformulated in contemporary terms. For this deposit of faith, or truths which are contained in our time-honored teaching is one thing; the manner in which these truths are set forth is something else.”
Bishop Byrne was the apostolic administrator for the Diocese of Wichita at the time, serving under Bishop Mark Kenny Carroll. Bishop Byrne represented the diocese in Rome during the Second Vatican Council. Monsignor Gilsenan remembers speaking with Bishop Byrne at the end of each day to find out what went on in the council. A press conference was held each day to provide a summary of what each bishop had said at the council for the English-speaking reporters.
“In some ways, it was easier to follow than being up in the council itself,” said Monsignor Gilsenan. “It (St. Peter’s Basilica) did not have a good PA system in there. It was 4,000 to 5,000 bishops in the very large church, making it difficult to hear.”
The Vatican II council was held over four periods, each lasting around eight to nine weeks and ending in December before Christmas. The first session began in October 1962 and adjourned in December 1962 under Pope John XXIII. Preparations for the second session were paused upon the death of Pope John XXIII, however resumed in June 1963 under Pope Paul VI to December 1963. The third session was held from September to November 1964 and the final session from September 1965 to the formal closing of the council on Dec. 8, 1965, under Pope Paul VI.
The Sixteen Documents
The Second Vatican Council produced a total of 16 documents over the four sessions of which are still relevant to the Catholic Church. Of the 16 documents, four constitutions, three declarations, and nine decrees were promulgated or published.
One of those documents, the constitution of the sacred liturgy, or Sacrosanctum Concilium, redefined the liturgy as a means to increase lay participation. Pope Paul VI promulgated the constitution on Dec. 4, 1963, at the end of the second session.
“That was the one that said Latin was the official language of the church,” said Monsignor Gilsenan. “The bishops in each country could decide to use the vernacular language of the church. One of the things that made the biggest change, for the priests of course, is it shortened the liturgy and also being in your own language, over the years we are able to understand (the liturgy) a lot better.”
“The psalms in Latin were rather familiar, but other parts were very complicated writing. To be able to read them in your own language is so much more enlightening,”
The Second Vatican Council also brought about a renewal of the Mass. The changes gave priests much greater selection and made it easier to preach.
“We very seldom read anything from the Old Testament,” said Monsignor Gilsenan. “At that time they introduced having three readings and they introduced also putting in the three cycles, with much greater of variety of reading. That was a big breakthrough.”
How it has shaped the Diocese of Wichita
The lasting impression of the Second Vatican Council on our diocese and the Catholic Church is a stagnant reminder of the importance of the council and its renewal of our faith.
“There was a real sense of the larger church and the responsibility that the bishops had for not just for their own diocese and churches” said Monsignor Gilsenan.
Monsignor Gilsenan remembers Bishop Byrne being a big part of the influence the Second Vatican Council has had on our diocese because he was so enthusiastic and spoke a lot about the day-to-day experiences at the council.
Also in part with the council, Pope John XXIII encouraged bishops to share their priests with the third world. Bishop Byrne became very acquainted with a bishop from Venezuela during the council and paved the way for a lasting affiliation. The connection continued after the council and as a result the diocese came to send down three to four priests to Venezuela. To this day, the diocese still supports the mission.
“The bishops have taken very seriously the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and in a lot of respects the church is a lot more democratic than it was,” said Monsignor Gilsenan.
“In the parish, the decision-making is shared with the people and the people are made a part of the church. The church is not as top down. Today the people share a lot more responsibility to express the faith. Lay people have taken a lot of leadership in respect for every person and the sacredness of life.”
As we honor the Year of Faith, may we remember the importance of the Second Vatican Council as it “opened the windows” of the Catholic Church to renew our faith in the modern world.