Then and Now
Vatican II and the People of God
This year the Church celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, which began October 11, 1962, and concluded December 8, 1965. Those of us who remember the unfolding of this event knew we were witnessing a historic moment.
In the 2,000-year history of the Church, there have only been twenty Church councils. The previous one, Vatican I, occurred in 1870; the one before that was the Council of Trent, which took place from 1545 to 1563.
Every Church council has had an important impact on the life journey of the Church, and certainly that can also be said of Vatican II. What would you expect? At times more than 2,300 bishops from all over the world took part. Compare that with Vatican I’s 730 mostly European bishops. The bishops who participated in Vatican II couldn’t help but realize that the power of the Holy Spirit was guiding them.
REFORM OF THE LITURGY
The most obvious result of Vatican II was liturgical reform. For the first time in over a thousand years, the Mass was celebrated in local languages, with the priests facing the people. A number of times in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium), the council called for “fully conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations” (14) by all.
And so we began to participate. We learned new hymns composed in English. We responded to the greetings of the celebrant. We professed our faith aloud and together. Early on, we saw the laity taking on their role as lectors and extraordinary ministers of holy Communion. We’ve seen many others contribute in music ministry or serving as greeters.
We’re able to receive the Eucharist as both the Body and Blood of Christ. Thanks to the three-year cycle of readings, we’re able to proclaim Scripture more fully.
Other sacraments have also been revised, such as the anointing of the sick, which we used to call extreme unction, and the sacrament of reconciliation. Most parishes now use the Rite of Christian Initiation to invite converts into our Catholic faith as they are baptized, confirmed, and receive their first Communion the first time at the Easter Vigil.