Mother Church rejoices that, by the singular gift of Divine Providence, the longed-for day has finally dawned when —under the auspices of the virgin Mother of God, whose maternal dignity is commemorated on this feast — the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council is being solemnly opened here beside St. Peter's tomb.
With these words Blessed Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council on October 11, 1962. Fifty years later Pope Benedict XVI called for a "Year of Faith" to mark this anniversary as well as the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Both Pontiffs saw that as a Church our "salt is becoming tasteless and our light is hidden". The Church in every age needs renewal so that its salt can flavor the world and its light can light up the path to Christ for humanity. John XXIII's main concern in calling the Council was to help the Church speak more clearly to the modern world. This was to be done by taking many of the documents of the First Vatican Council (1868) and updating or redacting them, bringing clearer focus on issues of modern importance and lessening the stress on other issues of lesser present significance. But in no way was it the intention of the Council or the actual work of the Council to throw out the baby with the bathwater. So why did so much confusion and apparent decline in the practice of our faith follow in the aftermath of Vatican II?
The trouble was not so much with the Council itself but with the interpretation of the Council's documents and often-faulty application of the teachings of the Council. This has become known as the "hermeneutic of discontinuity" or a way of interpreting the Council that was disconnected from all that went before the Council. The end result of this hermeneutic was that everything that was seen as "pre" Vatican II was outdated, non-essential and worse a sign of a radical clinging to the past and in the extreme it was seen almost as a mental illness. Likewise everything "post" Vatican II was groovy and meant that however an individual interpreted Catholicism was normative for that person (unless it included anything from the "pre" period). What really became up for grabs was the teaching authority or the magisterium of the Church.
This "who's the Pope to tell me what to do" Catholicism found its fuel in the cultural revolution that started in the late, not so great 1968. It almost seemed that the Council was agreeing with the cultural thrust that everything was up for grabs. But that really was not so. The turmoil of the 1970's and early 80's is behind us but as a Church we are still trying to regain our posture. This Year of Faith is another opportunity to do that by focusing on the things that are essential to the Catholic faith.
Pope Benedict in his Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei (The Door of Faith) in which he announced this Year of Faith, said "This will be a good opportunity to usher the whole Church into a time of particular reflection and rediscovery of the faith". So over the next year we will have many opportunities here at the Parish and in our Diocese to do just that. To reflect on the sixteen documents of the Council and to consider how they have affected us for the good and for the ill. Hopefully by the end of this 50th anniversary year we will be the mature Catholics that Blessed John XXIII intended us to become when he opened a window to let the Spirit in the Church.
The official prayer for the Year of Faith is the Nicene Creed. Each time we recite the Nicene Creed we do so with all those who have professed it throughout the entire history of the Christian people. As we go through this year we will look at how so many of our ancestors reflected on that faith and lived it out in every age.
Another way you can deepen your faith is to pray our new Stewardship Rosary, which contains the Luminous and Glorious Mysteries and helps you to consider ways to allow your faith to flavor you life's work. Copies of the CD are still available in the Church.
Fr. John Bonavitacola
PS The official website for the Year of Faith is filled with great reflections: www.annusfidei.va. You can find the link on our website.