Vatican II a brief summary of the decree on the church

Of the three documents passed by the second Vatican Council, the one on the church is obviously the most important. It particularly replaced Chapter II in the original draft which put the Pope and bishops first and then went on to discuss priests, religious and laity. It now had Chapter II as the whole people of God, all the baptised whether Pope or peasant. Chapter III starts the hierarchical church.

Chapter I
The church itself is a sacrament and does not simply administer the seven sacraments. It is ‘the universal sacrament of salvation.’ The church exists for the sake of the Kingdom of God, but is not identical with it (note 5). The Body of Christ is larger than the Catholic Church and is at once holy and always in need of renewal and reform (note 8).

Chapter II
The church is the whole people of God not simply the hierarchy, clergy and religious. All of the baptised participate in the one priesthood of Christ, even though the priesthood of the ‘ordained’ differs ‘essentially’ from that of the non-ordained and not only ‘in degree’ (note 10). There are degrees of incorporation into or communion with the Church (note 14). Non-Christians and non-believers can also be saved (note 16).

Chapter III
The bishops together with the Bishop of Rome, are the subject of supreme and full authority over the universal church. They exercise that supreme authority in the most solemn way in an ecumenical council (note 22). The Bishop of Rome is ‘the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity of the bishops and of the multitude of the faithful’ but the individual bishops exercise this same authority and pastoral responsibility in their own dioceses (note 23). The universal church consists of the communion of each of the local churches with one another (note 23). Infallibility is a gift of the whole church, but it is officially exercised by the Bishop of Rome under certain limited conditions and by the whole body of his brother bishops (note 25). The local churches are each the Body of Christ in their own places; they are not simply administrative subdivisions of the one, universal church (note 26). And bishops are not mere ‘vicars’ of the Bishop of Rome; they exercise an authority that is proper to them and not simply delegated by the Pope (note 27). Priests and bishops constitute one priesthood, although there are different functions within that priesthood (note 28).

Chapter IV
The Laity. Everything that has been said concerning the People of God in chapter 2 applies equally to the laity, religious and clergy. The laity are not confined to the temporal sphere, but also have an important role to play in the church (note 30). The laity participate directly in the mission of the church by reason of their baptism. They do not simply participate in the work of the hierarchy by delegation of the hierarchy (note 33). There is a legitimate and necessary public opinion in the church and the freedom to express it (note 37).

Chapter V
The call of the whole church to Holiness. The pursuit of sanctity is not simply for priests and religious; all the baptised are called to holiness.

Chapter VI
Religious. This sacred synod encourages and praises the men and women, brothers and sisters, who in monasteries or in schools and hospitals or in the missions, adorn the Bride of Christ. They do so by their unswerving and humble loyalty to their chosen consecration, while rendering to all men and women generous services of every variety (note 46).

Chapter VII
Eschatological nature of the pilgrim church and her union with the heavenly church. The saints are primarily models or exemplars of Christian discipleship rather than intercessors or miracle workers (note 50).

Chapter VIII
The role of the Blessed Virgin. Although Mary’s greatest role is Mother of God, she is also a model of the church and her dignity and role in the economy of salvation cannot be understood apart from the mystery of the church (notes 60-65).