Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, just as we are. Gospel of John 17:11
Twentieth-century writers during the World Wars such as T. S. Eliot, Flannery O’Connor, Thomas Merton, and Dorothy Day catalogued the spiritual bankruptcy of the twentieth century and called for spiritual renewal. The Christian Evangelist Billy Graham began a lifelong crusade for Americans to find Peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
The surprise announcement of the Second Vatican Council by Pope St. John XXIII was welcomed with open arms by all of Christianity, for the Pope called not only for an intense spiritual cultivation of the modern world, but also sought Christian unity. His opening speech convening the Second Vatican Council on October 11, 1962 referred to Jesus in the Gospel of John (17:11): “The Catholic Church, therefore, considers it her duty to work actively so that there may be fulfilled the great mystery of that unity, which Jesus Christ invoked with fervent prayer from His heavenly Father on the eve of His sacrifice.”
This effort towards unity accelerated the original call for Christian unity by the Protestant World Missionary Conference of Edinburgh in 1910, which recognized the lack of Christian unity proved to be a grave impediment to bringing non-Christians into the Church.
The Second Vatican Council literally “reset the course” for the Catholic Church, a Church which had been described by some as a fortress Church embattled during the Enlightenment and the Modernist era. To coin the expression of Hans Urs von Balthazar in 1952, the time had come to raze the bastions of the Church. It was time for the aggiornamento of Pope John XXIII, the “opening of the window” of the Church to the outside world, “a translation of the Christian message into an intellectual language understandable by the modern world.” The four Constitutions, nine Decrees, and three Declarations of Vatican II produced seven major contributions:
1) The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, authorized the Mass to be said in the native language, allowing the liturgy to be intelligible to the layman and helping secure their participation to the fullest.
2) The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, Lumen Gentium, shifted the emphasis of the Church away from its pyramidal structure to the vision of the whole People of God. The spirit of ecumenism and the change of heart towards all Christian brethren was truly a gift of the Holy Spirit. Lumen Gentium declared “the one Church of Jesus Christ subsists in the Catholic Church, although many elements of sanctification and truth exist outside its visible structure, elements which impel toward catholic unity.” The vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience are ever more important for the religious orders to serve as examples for the modern world. The role of the laity to order temporal affairs to the plan of God was emphasized.
3) The Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, reaffirmed the historicity of the Gospels and that Scripture and Tradition form one deposit of faith.
4) The Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, called for dialogue with the modern secular world. Dr. Alan Schreck of Franciscan University offered 3 keys to Gaudium et Spes: (a) the root of the world’s problems is found in the human heart. (b) God has created each person in his image and likeness and therefore each person has his own value and dignity. (c) The need for the Church to be a prophetic witness of the truth and to proclaim Jesus Christ. Vatican II led to the creation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, first published in 1992 and updated in 2000. Pope John Paul II called Gaudium et Spes the “magna carta of human activity, to be safeguarded and promoted.”
5) The Decree on Eastern Catholic Churches had a dramatic impact on the growth and viability of the Eastern Catholic Churches.
6) The Declaration on Religious Liberty recognized that the human person has a right to religious freedom.
7) The greatest fruit of the Second Vatican Council was the exceptional Papacy of John Paul II, who integrated the vision of Vatican II into the life of his Papacy. In fact, the Pope, in his 1994 book Crossing The Threshold of Hope, called the Second Vatican Council “the Seminary of the Holy Spirit.”