Vatican II conclusion remembered

August 2015 Feature Sr Catherine Jones smsm The Second Vatican Council came to a close 50 years ago. This anniversary is being marked around the world in September and October….

August 2015


Sr Catherine Jones smsm

The Second Vatican Council came to a close 50 years ago. This anniversary is being marked around the world in September and October. Significant Council documents and how they relate to today are explored in this and in future issues of Wel-Com.

Now is the time for the medicine of mercy.’ These prophetic words of Pope, now Saint, John XXIII at the opening session of the Second Vatican Council in 1962, ring out anew with the proclamation of a Year of Mercy by Pope Francis. Is it time to reap the fruits of that council, 50 years since it closed in December 1965?

When Pope John XXIII died, Pope Paul VI took up the reins and personally intervened with his vision of a dialogical church, rooted in scripture and prayer, open to the new world.

Every aspect of Church life came under scrutiny: the role of laity, social communications, education, formation and ministry of priests and bishops, the renewal of religious life,

Eastern Catholic churches, missionary activity, religious freedom and relationships with believers of others faiths.

The  four main Council documents – Constitutions on the Church, Church in the Modern World, Liturgy, and Divine Revelation –  are centred on ‘the call to holiness’, lived out in the daily ‘joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties’ (opening lines of Gaudium et spes) of each one of us.

Nostra aetate

Missionary activity and relationships with believers of other faiths. ‘No longer strangers, but friends, brothers and sisters’ – Pope Francis

Three documents, signed in the final session of the Council, offered a revolution in the Church’s missionary attitudes. They are the Declaration on Religious Freedom Dignitatis humanae personae; the Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity, Ad gentes; and the Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to non-Christian Religions, Nostra aetate.
The realisation ‘the whole  Church is missionary by its very nature’ (LG 5; AG 2, 35) sent many of the traditional missionary congregations into a profound identity crisis. If all the baptised are called to be missionary, what is their vocation now in the Church?

Even more revolutionary was the new attitude of respect for believers of other faiths. ‘The Church looks with esteem upon Muslims’, urging both Muslims and Christians ‘to strive for mutual understanding’ and to work together in fostering ‘social justice, moral values, peace and freedom’ (NA5). Can we imagine how different the Middle East would be today if we’d taken that to heart?

Addressing the International Council of Christians and Jews in Rome in June this year, Pope Francis insisted, ‘Nostra aetate represents a definitive “yes” to the Jewish roots of Christianity and an irrevocable “no” to anti-semitism’. He said, ‘We are strangers no more, but friends, and brothers and sisters’. This was beautifully symbolised in the gift of a statue showing two female figures of Church and Synagogue standing proudly and powerfully together, embodying a new vision of mutuality and respect.

To mark the 50th anniversary of Vatican II closing, and the document Nostra aetate, the NZ Catholic Bishops Committee for Interfaith Relations has invited Rabbi Fred Morgan to visit New Zealand in September to speak on a Jewish perspective on Jewish-Catholic relations over the past 50 years. Rabbi Fred will present a Jewish perspective on Nostra aetate on Monday 21 September, 6–9pm at VUW’s Pipitea Campus: Lecture Theatre 1, Stout St entrance, Wellington. Email for more information.