At the moment I’m reading through the documents of the Second Vatican Council in preparation for what we will be covering in the JP2 Group towards the end of the year. I thought it would make sense to do a few blog posts about what I’ve been reading.
The Second Vatican Council is probably one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented Councils of Church history, together with the Council of Nicea and the Council of Trent.
I can’t think of Vatican 2 without remembering an incident that happened back in England when I was a member of our church’s hospital visiting ministry. Each week, two members of our group would go to the local hospital and visit all those patients who had written down “Roman Catholic” on their admission forms. We would visit each of them, offer them something to read and check to see if they wanted to receive Holy Communion the following day. It was a large campus and it took us several hours to cover the entire hospital.
Losing My Religion
Inevitably, we would end up spending much of our time talking to lapsed Catholics. We would regularly encounter those who didn’t practise their faith and who hadn’t entered a Church in years – they had been “Sacramentalized” but not evangelised. Because they had received Baptism, First Holy Communion and Confirmation they instinctively wrote down “Roman Catholic” on their paperwork.
As you can imagine, many of the conversations I had were both extremely interesting and extremely troubling, as the patients explained to me how they had lost their faith in God, or rather, how they lost faith in Christians. I’m sure that will be the material for another blog entry sometime…
“Conform no more to the pattern of this world…”
However, the incident that sticks in my mind is a conversation I had with the relative of one of the patients. The lady actually wasn’t lapsed and still attended Mass, actually attending my own parish. As I was chatting with her and her father she expressed how shocked she was by the previous week’s sermon.
The sermon in question was given by the Parish’s Assistant Priest. He was young (approximately my age), intelligent and very passionate about the Faith. Personally, I thought the sermon was superb, but there was one aspect with which this lady took exception: during the course of his sermon he spoke about the moral sensibilities of our present day, particularly in reference to premarital sex, marriage and cohabitation….
She was incensed by this, having herself lived with her boyfriend for several years before getting married and seeing nothing wrong with it. I am often surrounded by people who don’t understand or agree with the Church’s teaching on matters of sexual ethics, so I tried to gently explain the Scriptural, logical and historical basis for the Church’s teaching. Her response, however, left me speechless:
“I thought all that sort of thing changed with Vatican 2?”
Naturally, I asked her which of the constitutions, decrees or declarations she had in mind, but, of course, she couldn’t tell me because the Council taught no such thing.
Although this was an extreme case, I don’t think it’s that rare, even among Mass-attending Catholics. Since that time I have heard very similar nonsensical statements about the Second Vatican Council. People do seem to have a great awareness that something important happened at Vatican 2, but few seem able to articulate exactly what the Council taught and even fewer seem to have actually studied the documents that it produced prior to espousing their opinions.
Now, to be fair, some of the Council’s documents are rather dense, but others are also immensely readable. Either way, as I work through the documents in preparation for going through them with the JP2 Group, I’m going to hopefully provide some short, readable blog posts, demystifying the Council and explaining exactly what it taught.