As the Catholic Church marks 60 years since the start of the historic Second Vatican Council, Pope Francis is setting the tone for discussion during two major events over the next few years.
Perhaps the most significant event in global Catholicism in the past century, the Second Vatican Council was formally opened by Pope Saint John XXIII on Oct. 11, 1962, gathering bishops from around the world to explore revisions and reforms with the goal of making the church better understood and more effective at evangelization in an increasingly secular world. It was closed by Pope Saint Paul VI on Dec. 8, 1965.
The 16 magisterial documents produced by the council outlined sweeping liturgical reforms; laid the framework for ecumenical and interfaith bridge-building; underlined the need for more lay involvement in church life; and stressed the importance of developing strategies that were more pastoral in nature.
Pope Francis, who was a young member of the Society of Jesus when the council took place, has championed many of these causes as pope, from his emphasis on mercy, to his efforts in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue, to his promotion of laypeople even in key positions within the Roman Curia and his decision to allow them to lead Vatican departments, to his own liturgical legislation further restricting the pre-1962 Traditional Latin Mass.
To commemorate the 60th anniversary of the opening of the council, the pope was scheduled to preside at a special Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica Oct. 11.
In an explanatory note released Monday, the new Dicastery for Evangelization, which is tasked with organizing the upcoming “Pilgrims of Hope” Jubilee in 2025, said Vatican II is “one of the most significant events in the history of the church in the 20th century.”
The pope’s Mass, the statement said, was to “formally begin the year of preparation for the Jubilee of 2025,” which is dedicated “to reflecting on and revisiting the four Council Constitutions.”
“With this celebration, the preparation for the Jubilee of 2025 will begin to take concrete shape, with the year 2023 dedicated to the teaching of the Council,” the statement said, saying their department will distribute a series of “very informative” publications written by experts in “easy-to-understand language” exploring major council themes.
These texts, the department said, are intended to introduce younger generations unfamiliar with the Second Vatican Council to “the importance of this event that marked the history of the church in our day.”
In a separate Oct. 10 statement from the Vatican office for the Synod of Bishops, the department said the anniversary of the opening of the council is also “a moment of particular grace” for the institution of the synod itself, as the synod gatherings are a product of the council, and “one of its most precious legacies.”
Currently the Catholic Church is in the midst of a three-year Synod of Bishops on Synodality in the Life and Mission of the Church – a major theme of Francis’s papacy that encompasses participation and consultation at all levels of the church, including laity in local parish settings, as well as clergy and bishops – that will culminate next October with a gathering of bishops in Rome.
In its statement, the Synod of Bishops said the purpose of the synod gathering was and remains “to prolong, in the life and mission of the Church, the spirit of the Second Vatican Council.”
Its purpose is also to “foster in the People of God the living appropriation” of the council’s teaching, with the awareness that the council itself was a “great grace from which the Church has benefited in the 20th century.”
“This task is far from being completed since the reception of the conciliar magisterium is an ongoing process; in some respects, it is still in its infancy,” the statement said, alluding to various forms of resistance to the council and its reforms.
Throughout the decades that have passed since the synod was first instituted in 1965, the office of the Synod of Bishops has consistently “placed itself at the service of the Council, contributing for its part to renewing the face of the Church” through faithfulness to scripture, the church’s “living tradition,” and attentiveness to the signs of the times.
Synod gatherings at every level, whether it be ordinary, extraordinary or special, have been “permeated, in (their) own way, by the life-giving sustenance provided by the Council.”
“From time to time, these Assemblies have deepened this same teaching, disclosed its potential in the face of new scenarios, and fostered inculturation among peoples,” the statement said, calling the current Synod on Synodality a continuation of the council’s legacy.
The words “communion, participation, and mission” that are included in the title of the ongoing synod, the statement said, are “eminently conciliar words.”
“The Church that we are called to dream and build,” the statement said, “is a community of women and men drawn together in communion by the one faith, our common baptism and the same Eucharist,” who in despite differences in ministry and charism, “actively participate in the establishment of the Kingdom of God.”
In this sense, synodality, it said, is “a constitutive dimension of the Church” and it is “the path that God expects from the Church of the third millennium.”