On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s opening, Pope Benedict XVI described it as a “moment of grace” in the recent history of the Church.
“The Second Vatican Council is a strong call for us to rediscover the beauty of our faith every day, to know nourish a deeper understanding of it, a more intense relationship with the Lord, to truly live our Christian vocation,” the Pope said during his Oct. 10 general audience.
“May the Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ and of the whole Church,” he prayed, “help us to realize and to fulfill all that the Council Fathers, inspired by the Holy Spirit, guarded in their heart: the desire that all may know the Gospel and meet the Lord Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life.”
The Pope offered “some brief thoughts … on the great ecclesial event that was the Council” to the more than 20,000 pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square.
During the 1962-65 council, Pope Benedict XVI attended as the chief theological advisor or “peritus” to Cardinal Joseph Frings of Cologne.
“It was a unique experience for me, after all the fervor and enthusiasm of preparation, I could see a living Church,” he recalled.
The Pope remembered the great sight of over 3,000 bishops from around the world “gathered under the guidance of the Successor of the Apostle Peter” at “the school of the Holy Spirit, the true driving force of the Council.” At few other times, he suggested, have people been able to “almost concretely ‘touch’ the universality of the Church.”
He also recalled the “the surprise of the small group of cardinals” who were present at the Roman basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls when Pope John XXIII announced the convening of the Second Vatican Council in January 1959. Unlike the previous general councils of the Church, there “were no particular errors of faith to correct or condemn,” nor were there “specific issues of doctrine or discipline to be clarified,” Pope Benedict explained.
The reason for the Council, Benedict XVI said, was spelled out by Pope John in his opening speech when he stated that “faith had to speak in a ‘renewed,’ more incisive way” in a rapidly changing world, while “keeping its perennial contents” and “without giving in or compromising.”
“The Pope wanted the Church to reflect on her faith, on the truths that guide her, but this serious, in-depth reflection on faith, had to outline the relationship between the Church and the modern age,” Pope Benedict noted.
Borrowing a phrase from Blessed Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict described the documents that emerged from the council’s discussion as “a sure compass” for the Church in the contemporary world.
Fifty years after the start of the council, Catholics “must learn the simplest and most basic lesson of the Council,” he said, “namely that Christianity in its essence consists in faith in God, which is love of the Trinity, and in the encounter, both personal and communal, with Christ who directs and guides life.” From this understanding “everything else follows.”