Today marks the 59th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, back in those heady days of the early sixties, the future, to many eyes, full of promise and hope, throwing off the shackles of their own ancien regime, the bourgeois suburbia of the post-war era giving way to the hoary hedonism of the hippies.
This is also the day chosen by the Church to commemorate the Pontiff who called the Council, John XXIII, an elderly ‘caretaker’ Pope, when elected as a portly septuagenarian upon the death of the austere Pius XII in 1958. No one expected him to call an ecumenical Council, which are rather rare, the last being interrupted by the Franco-Prussian war in 1870, and the one before that was the Council of Trent (1545 – 1563). As Pope John later said, the idea for the Council came to him as a sudden inspiration – when he announced his intention to the cardinals assembled at Saint Paul’s basilica, he was met at first with stunned silence.
We may all have our opinions of the Second Vatican Council (1962 – 65), but we should keep in mind that much of the post-conciliar mayhem had little to do with the conciliar texts, which are overall quite conservative, especially if read in their original and official Latin (the English translations often leave something to be desired). Even if a bit vague in parts, the Council prescribes continuing the Tradition: Latin in the Mass, Gregorian chant (to be given ‘pride of place’), the organ, Saint Thomas Aquinas, the value of priestly celibacy and chastity, the power of contemplative life (‘as effective as it is hidden’), the historical truth of Scripture, especially the Gospels, the divinity of Christ and devotion to His mother and all the saints, and the necessity of the one, true Church for salvation.