The outcomes of Vatican II impact the way Catholics live and celebrate today. However, many Catholics do not understand the history of Vatican II and the role it has played in the modern Church.
When the council began, Pope John XXIII had already been diagnosed with stomach cancer and said to a friend: "At least I have launched this big ship -- others will have to bring it into port." When he died after the first session of the Council, his successor Pope Paul VI continued the Council until it closed in 1965.
During the three years between the council’s opening in 1962 and conclusion in 1965, the council issued sixteen documents that covered the essence of the Catholic faith. Some of the documents are known as constitutions, since they deal with the essential nature of the Church, such as the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, which resulted in Catholics celebrating the Eucharist in new ways. Others are known as decrees or declarations. All of these documents had implications for the ways Catholics understood and celebrated the faith and are accessible on the Vatican website.
In addition to putting the key documents from the Second Vatican Council into practice worldwide, important encyclicals, or letters, were written during the Second Vatican Council. Lumen Gentium is considered the centerpiece of the sixteen documents of Vatican II because it contains many of the key theological achievements of the Council. In Mater et Magistra and Pacem in Terris, the Catholic Church expanded its message of social justice in the modern world.
The Future of Our Church
In many ways, the Second Vatican Council is credited with shaping the modern Catholic Church. Pope Francis has convened a Synodality Project: October 2021 to October 2023, which hearkens back to John XXIII’s Vatican II and shares connections and implications for the Church in the future. This synod is different because it includes all members of the Church.
In honor of the upcoming anniversary, esteemed Vatican II researcher and Vatican II expert Sister Maureen Sullivan, OP, PhD, has presented the Vatican II, Synodality, and the Future of Our Church Webinar. The webinar delves into the history of Vatican II and the Pope Francis’s Synodality Project, which deepens the continually unfolding vision of Vatican II. Access the webinar on demand.
Sister Maureen has written extensively about Vatican II. Read another article she has written about the legacy of Vatican II here.
The legacy and achievements of Vatican II impact today's Church and today’s Catholics. It is important for Catholic students and families to understand the far reaching impacts of the Second Vatican Council on the ways they understand, celebrate, and live out the faith in the modern world, particularly if they were born after the Council or lack understanding of the energy and reform it brought into the Church. The sixtieth anniversary of the opening of the Council is a perfect opportunity to reflect on the ways that the legacy of Vatican II will continue to guide the Church and the faith in the future.