What went wrong with Vatican II?
Nov 27, 2017
What went wrong with Vatican II?
I will approach this direct question from both directions: that is, I will both try to answer the question above as given and also will say something about what went right with Vatican II, so that all can see that this important moment in recent Church history must not be easily dismissed nor taken presumptively as having said things that can easily be proven false.
First, however, I want to acknowledge a truth that is found throughout the history of the Church’s 21 ecumenical councils, beginning back in the year 325 at Nicea. Consistent in all of these councils is the fact that the implementation of their teachings and/or writings were neither immediate nor without difficulties. After every council, including more recent ones such as Vatican I in 1870 and Trent in the mid 16th century, there was a period of years that included resistance and turmoil in fully moving forward with what had been set forth in the given council. That said, it is also important to note that Vatican II did not set forth any new articulations of doctrine. Rather, its nature was purely pastoral, seeking to confront the circumstances facing the Church in the world toward aiding in the further and more effective proclamation of Jesus Christ. Please keep this background in mind as I answer the question.
In truth, we have yet to see the fullness of what was offered and set in motion at Vatican II. The 16 documents of the council contain a great depth of teaching on a vast array of pastoral subjects, including missionary activity, the role of the laity in the Church, the reading of Sacred Scripture, marriage and family, ecumenism, the nature of the Church, and her worship. Many invoke Vatican II to the extreme as the source of radical changes in the life and mission of the Church – either for better or for worse. However, paragraph after paragraph of the 16 documents continually affirm what has always been the faith of the Church, with additional reflections and ideas on how to more effectively live the Gospel and bring its truth to all peoples. Thus, what has gone “right” with Vatican II is easily obtained, simply by opening up the actual documents of the council, giving them their proper reading and study so as to be led to live what is contained within them. (Simply go to www.vatican.va and click on “Resource Library” and go to “II Vatican Council” to see the list of documents with links to their texts).
Fully aware that many believe that Vatican II has led the Church toward a reduction in lived faith, especially as practiced in our worship, I want to say that the current state of life and worship in the Church are less about what Vatican II said and more about how Vatican II was interpreted later. When you read the single document on worship, called Sacrosanctum concilium, it is very clear that “reform” of liturgy was never intended to be a total shift in practice. That said, beginning in 1965 when the implementation began, it is unfortunate that rather than abiding in the will of the council (which spoke of how the people need to be formed and catechized in worship toward fuller participation), elements that were totally new and previously unknown to Catholic worship began to be introduced, without due regard for what had developed throughout many centuries. Consequently, 50 years later, there is great confusion among the faithful on the nature of worship and true way of participating within it.
In conclusion, while I have said something of what both went right and wrong, what is most important for us is to continue to humble ourselves in the sight of Jesus Christ, remaining open to His truth, including that truth as handed down to us by Vatican II, while being willing to identify and correct errors of the recent past onto a stronger, more faithful living in the love of Jesus Christ within His holy Church.