Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Vatican II and You

Father John J. Lombardi 

"From Him 'the whole body… attains a growth that is God' (Col. 2.19). He continually provides in His body, in the Church…gifts of ministries through which , by His power, we serve each other unto salvation so that, carrying out the truth in love, we may through all things grow into Him'"(Vatican II: Lumen Gentium/The Church: #7).

Have you ever heard of the wise Latin saying-"In media stat virtue…In the middle lies virtue." ? This comes in handy in a variety of situations. Sometimes we clumsy humans may, in pursuit of truth--and in the practical applications of it--extrematize in formulating our "answers" to problems and miss the truer solution in moderation, "in the middle," between seeming opposites.

This is true regarding views about, and application of, Vatican Council II, which was convened by Pope John XXIII, in 1962. When interpreting the Council, we should remember our Latin-"in the middle lies virtue"! … Many people today may make the mistake of extremist interpretations of the Council by either thinking the Council changed everything--and continues to legitimize any changes ("progressivists"); and on the other extreme, some think Vatican II was a mistake and changed too much ("regressivists"). Let us consider three important truths regarding Vatican II:

  1.  Pastoral Council: The Council's purpose was not the new formulation of dogma or altering the essence of our religion (called "the deposit of Faith"); it was rather the pragmatic application of timeless principles to the "modern world". The development of dogma (how essential truths are understood differently and better thru time) was explicated and thereby helped further evangelization more validly.
  2. Tone: Pope John Paul II has intimated that, while changing nothing in the essential teachings of Christ's Church, the Council embraced a "new tone" toward the world-one more engaging and dialogic with it, and to its various peoples, cultures and religions.
  3. Continuity: While the 3,000 worldwide bishops approved some changes in non-dogmatic expressions of the Faith (i.e., language and music at Mass), to better evangelize various cultures, they also stressed the continuity with the past. In other words, the Church renews by remembering.

We now review some of the moderated teachings of Vatican II on major issues:


While many think the Council defined the Church too widely and nebulously, others thought the "pastoral" interpretation gave license to downplay Christ's unique gift to St. Peter and the Catholic Church. Notice, in this quote from "Lumen Gentium-Light to the Gentiles"-that virtue and truth lies in the middle of these extremes: "The Church is , accordingly a sheepfold, the sole and necessary gateway which is Christ… and…(is a) society, structured with hierarchical organs and the mystical body of Christ, the visible society and the spiritual community…(It) comes together to form a human and divine element ... this is the sole Church of Christ which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, Catholic and apostolic.."(# 6, 8).

The document adds: "The Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honored by the name Christian, but who do not profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity or communion…." (#14). Reflection: As St. Paul embraced the Lord's Catholic unity, and brought this unswervingly and perseveringly to others, how can you manifest Christ's rich treasures and Catholic unity to others?...


The Church has always preached that all are called to serve Jesus. However, in an explicit way, Vatican II re-challenged: "The Lord Jesus, divine teacher and model of all perfection, preached holiness of life to each and every disciple…It is therefore quite clear that all Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to perfection of love" (#40-Lumen Gentium).

One of the main chapters of this document, in fact, is called "The People of God," and stresses the privileged status of belonging to God and His Church, and the duties of that status…Reflection: How can you reverence Christ's, and Vatican II's, vision of an "organic" and hierarchical Church while also recognizing the need to build up the Church and thereby mission in the world?....Mother Seton, our patroness, surely did this and became a saint-how about you?!...


Many extremists think the Council denied Christ as the true way of salvation (regressivists), or thought it legitimized any non-Christian way as a true, complete religion (progressivists). Not so; the Document on Non-Christian Religions--"Nostra Aetetae-This Age of Ours"- forges a moderated middle between these perceived extremes: "The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions.

She has high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and doctrines which, although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nevertheless reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men. Yet she proclaims and is in duty bound to proclaim without fail, Christ Who 'is the way, the truth and the life.'

In Him Who God reconciled all things in himself, men find the fullness of their religious life." (#2)…Reflection: You can do two things at once- see partial truths in other religions and also bring Christ through words, deeds, or "witnessing silence" to those around you. Mother Teresa of Calcutta was an excellent example of this-while respecting the dignity of others' background, she still compassionately offered Christ-how about you?


Some think Vatican II denied the integrity and inerrancy of the Bible (that it teaches truth and is free from error), or, oppositely, that the Council was really an intellectual revolution that "finally freed scholars from the oppresivist past". Once again the Council links us to the past, rich teachings of sacred tradition (the word tradition means, "to pass on"): "The divinely revealed realities which contained and presented in Scripture written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit have God as their author… (they) faithfully and without error teach that truth which God for the sake of our salvation wished to see confided in sacred Scripture.

But since sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted with its divine authorship in mind, no less attention should be devoted to the content and unity of the whole of scripture… taking into account the Tradition of the entire Church and the analogy of faith." (#12)…Reflection: How can I read the Bible as "God's letter," free from error and, if confused, interpret with the Church?...St Jerome- translator of the Bible-said: "Ignorance of the Scripture is ignorance of Christ"…


Many think the Council embraced "the world" and governments too much; others thought the Council wasn't sufficiently "worldly-wise". Notice the balance between both opinions, in "Gaudium et Spes- The Joys and Hopes/The Church in the Modern World": "This is the reason why the sacred synod in proclaiming the noble destiny of man and affirming an element of the divine in him offers to cooperate unreservedly with mankind in fostering a sense of brotherhood to correspond to this destiny of theirs.

The Church is not motivated by an earthly ambition but is interested in one thing only-to carry on the work of Christ under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, for He came into the world to bear witness to the truth to save and not to judge…." (#3). Reflection: How can you foster spiritual solidarity and wisely proclaim Christ in your own world? Pope John Paul himself has done this ceaselessly, recognizing the beauty of all peoples, while carrying-physically and spiritually-the Cross of Christ.


"Regressivists" say Vatican II stripped silence and Christ's sacrificial action from the Mass, while "progressvists" think the Council baptized all change and liberated the "empowerment of laity" from clericalism. Now read and consider the Document on the Liturgy-Sacrosanctum Concilium: " For it is the liturgy through which, especially in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist, the work of our redemption is accomplished, and it is through the liturgy, especially that the faithful are enabled to express in their lives and manifest to others the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church.

The Church is essentially both human and divine, visible but endowed with invisible realties, zealous in action and dedicated to contemplation…"(#1). Reflection: How can I embrace Christ's sacrifice in the Mass and give active participation in it--both external and internal (see # 19).


The sacred continuity of past, Catholic-Christian teachings, and present applications through renewal, is achievable and amenable-when interpreted in the Church's way. Read and familiarize yourself with the Vatican II documents and converse with the modern world while bringing the other (Christ's) world to it!

Briefly Noted

Think about it: "The hand that erases is the same hand that writes the truth." +Meister Eckhart (See St. Jn. 8:6)…

True Respect and Love: "The social duty of Christians is to respect and awaken in each man the love of the true and the good. It requires them to make known the worship of the one true religion which subsists in the Catholic and apostolic Church." (Catechism of the Catholic Church: #2105)

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi