Much time had passed since 1870 when the First Vatican Council adjourned; however, it was fated never to reassemble again and only part of its purpose was completed due to the death of Pope Pius IX. Although several popes took the seat of papacy thereafter, it was not until Pope John XXIII took office that the Second Vatican Council commenced and changed the course of the Catholic Church. Officially is it known as the Second Vatican Council, but most refer to it as Vatican II and was announced in 1959. Pope John hoped that this new Council would increase the passion of Catholics. This, of course, caused much speculation amongst die-hard Catholics as well as total surprise? Many believed that this type of council was no longer needed, but the papacy begged to differ.
Within three years, between 1962 and 1965, close to 2,500 thousand people were called to St. Peter’s Basilica to discuss and reconsider church practices during the aftermath of World War II. This included laymen and laywomen, sisters, observers, auditors, priests and Bishops. As a result of this council,16 documents were created that began to lay a new foundation for the Catholic Church as it moved forward. Of course, this produced much ruckus within the Catholic Church, but it didn’t matter because a new go-ahead theology was beginning to take shape.
Many new changes came about as a result of this council. One change was that Mass no longer be conducted in Latin. It was believed that changing this would foster better communication between people and the church. It was great because now the congregation would actually be able to understand what was taking place during Mass. This new change also opened up doors for other languages to be spoken during its services. Moving forward, no longer would priests show their backs to the congregation and the Sedilia (stone seats, found on the liturgical side of the altar) were to be placed in plain view for all to see.
In addition, Vatican II created an open environment for Catholics to pray with other Christian denominations and also non-Christians encouraging fellowship with humanity. Vatican II also addressed other areas of change such as how to deal with the media, a strong focus on education for youth, and divine revelation. It was felt by many that now the Catholic Church was moving forward in a more modern realm. Some equated Vatican II to the church receiving a new facelift and not being tied to only its missionary activities. It was felt by many that the church was beginning to leave behind its image of “an old fortress.” Some were elated that the Catholic Church had begun to move forward and was now engaging in new dialog with its people.
It was during this council that Pope John addressed the Fathers after Mass. He explained to them in which direction they must move and the correct spirit in which to implement it. The message was one of renewal of spirit and placing their trust back in God. Pope John explained that in the past, the Church was the dispenser of condemnation and asperity and what was required was a Church of understanding and mercy, but above all a church outpouring the riches received through Christ.
Because of the open-mindedness of a new pope, Vatican II was introduced. The Catholic Church had now became a form of unity that desperately was desired by many Catholics. It is said by some that without Vatican II, the Catholic Church would have had a much more difficult journey in connecting to its followers. Today, we now know that Vatican II changed the course of the Catholic Church. Some say it didn’t go far enough, others say it went too far.