The resolutions from the Second Vatican Council at a glance – Church+Life

The reorientation of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) changed the face of the Church – and opened the window to the whole world. Some decisions are still waiting to be implemented today.

With the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), which opened on October 11, 1962, 60 years ago, the Catholic Church initiated a comprehensive renewal. This is the main content of the 16 council texts:

church understanding: The constitution “Lumen Gentium” (1964) outlines the Roman Catholic Church’s new self-understanding. It defines the church as the community of believers, as “God’s people” on the way through time. In this church, which is constantly being reformed, the “common priesthood” of all believers is emphasized, which is realized in various forms by priests and lay people. The bishop’s college has been upgraded. The guide, like a supplementary statement from Pope Paul VI. pronounces the church “with and under Peter”.

The congregation must help shape the liturgy

liturgy: The constitution “Sacrosanctum Concilium” (1963) calls for more use of the respective national language in the service. The faithful should participate actively in the liturgical events as a congregation; focus on the priest diminishes. The council fathers emphasized the value of Bible preaching and church music in the service. The new Roman Missal from 1969/70 goes further and replaces the old Tridentine Mass, where the priests celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass with their backs to the congregation. Numerous traditions and rituals, such as the sermon from the pulpit or the “silent masses”, have been abolished.

readiness for ecumenism

religious freedom: The declaration “Dignitatis humanae” (1965) on religious freedom refers to the inviolable human dignity of the individual and gives all people the civil right to freely choose their religion according to their own conscience. Nevertheless, the Council emphasizes the conviction that the “only true religion” is realized “in the Catholic, Apostolic Church”.

ecumenism: The Council Fathers complete a fundamental theological opening towards Orthodox and Protestants. The decree “Unitatis redintegratio” (1964) is a milestone in the Roman Church’s readiness for ecumenical dialogue. In a joint statement on the penultimate day of the council, Pope Paul VI said. and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Athenagoras, confirmed the mutual excommunication sanctioned by their predecessors in 1054.

reconciliation with Judaism

Judaism and other non-Christian religions: The declaration “Nostra aetate” (1965) clarifies the Roman Church’s relationship with non-Christian religions. With a clear rejection of traditional anti-Judaism, a reconciliation of the church with Judaism begins. The document emphasizes what connects them with other religions without diminishing their own claim to truth. The Catholic Church, it is said, does not reject anything that is “true and holy” in the religions. Christians, Jews and Muslims are encouraged to clarify mutual misunderstandings in dialogue.

church and the world: The Constitution “Gaudium et Spes” (1965) attempts a comprehensive determination of “the position of the Church in today’s world”, the development of which caused heated discussions among the council fathers. Important topics were the relationship between rearmament, aggressive war and self-defense, a condemnation of communist atheism, and a combination of scientific and economic progress with lived solidarity.

The diocese strengthened in relation to Rome

The Bible and Revelation: The constitution “Dei Verbum” (1965) on divine revelation paves the way for a new scientific approach to the Bible by allowing historical-critical interpretation. The document tries to create a balanced relationship between the Holy Scriptures, the tradition of the church and the teaching of the church. Revelation is understood as God’s self-communication in words and deeds.

the episcopate: The council not only adjusts the position of the laity in relation to the priests and bishops. In the decree “Christus Dominus” (1965) on the episcopal priesthood in the Church, it also strengthens the teaching and governing function of the bishop in his diocese in relation to the headquarters of the Roman Church and the new instrument of the national episcopal conferences. The emphasis on episcopal collegiality counterbalances the definition of papal primacy in Vatican I (1870/71).

Emphasis on lay vocations

Spiritual vocations and lay apostolate: In several decrees, the Council prepares guidelines for a contemporary form of Christian life and service in spiritual professions for priests, religious and lay people. The importance of the vocation of lay people is emphasized, the formation of priests is restructured. The church’s mission activity gets a new theological basis in the decree “Ad gentes”.

media: The Council’s document “Inter mirifica” (1963) calls on Catholics to acquire media competence, to pass it on and thus make Christian positions heard in society via the media.

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