Fifty years ago, on 11 October 1962, Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council in St Peter's Basilica
It was a splendid day on 11 October 1962 when the Second Vatican Council opened with the solemn procession into St Peter’s Basilica in Rome of more than two thousand Council Fathers. In 1931 Pius XI had dedicated this day to the feast of the Divine Motherhood of Mary, mindful that 1,500 years earlier, in 431, the Council of Ephesus had solemnly recognized this title for Mary in order to express God’s indissoluble union with man in Christ.
Pope John XXIII had chosen this day for the beginning of the Council so as to entrust the great ecclesial assembly, which he had convoked, to the motherly goodness of Mary and to anchor the Council’s work firmly in the mystery of Jesus Christ. It was impressive to see in the entrance procession bishops from all over the world, from all peoples and all races: an image of the Church of Jesus Christ which embraces the whole world, in which the peoples of the earth know they are united in his peace.
At the General Audience the Pope reflects on the fundamental lesson of the Second Vatican Council
The Second Vatican Council documents remain “a compass in our time too that permits the Barque of the Church to put out into the deep”. The Pope said this at the General Audience in St Peter's Square on Wednesday, 10 October, the eve of the 50th anniversary of the opening of the ecumenical assembly, which will coincide with the opening of the Year of Faith.
Borrowing the words of John Paul II – who described Vatican II as a “great grace” and “a sure compass” for the Church – Benedict XVI recalled the need to return to the conciliar texts, “liberating them from a mass of publications which, instead of making them known, have often concealed them”. Only in this way, according to the Pope, is it possible to approach the ecumenical assembly as if it were “a great fresco, so to speak, painted with the great multiplicity and variety of its elements under the guidance of the Holy Spirit”. And “still today we continue to perceive the extraordinary wealth of that moment of grace”, the Pope said, “to discover in it particular sections, fragments, pieces of the mosaic”. For Benedict, XVI, who “witnessed it directly” by participating in it as a peritus, Vatican II remains “a unique experience” in which was revealed the face of “a living Church” who set herself “to learn from the Holy Spirit, the true driving force of the Council”.
Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelisation, announced details of the opening ceremony for the Year of Faith, which will be presided by the Holy Father in St. Peter's Square at 10 a.m. on Thursday 11 October.
"It is particularly significant", the archbishop explained, "that the beginning of the Year of Faith falls on the day of the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of Vatican Council II. This is no coincidence. ... Rather, it is an opportunity to revisit that event which left such a deep mark on the life of the Church in the twentieth century, and to examine the influence its teachings have had during the intervening decades and will have over the coming years of Church commitment to new evangelisation. In fact, Vatican Council II was itself intended as a special moment of new evangelisation".
Half a century has passed since the beginning of the Second Vatican Council. The largest gathering of bishops ever to be held in history opened on 11 October 1962 and marked a milestone in the uninterrupted development of the Catholic tradition, by its nature open to the future. The Church's desire for renewal was therefore apparent and generally understood, just as in Catholicism across the world this desire has been consistent overall in the decades that have passed since then. This is so despite the contradictions, shortcomings and limitations inevitable in every human situation and despite the tenacious stereotypes that sought and constantly seek to spread views contrary to them but fail to respect reality.
For the occasion of the Year of Faith -- which will begin on Thursday, 11 October, and conclude on 24 November 2013 -- the Apostolic Penitentiary has issued a Decree including a series of “pious exercises” to be performed during this time for “Special Indulgences” . Called for by the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization and in accordance with the wishes of the Pope, the Penitentiary has laid down certain conditions encouraging the faithful to a deeper understanding of and a love for the Doctrine of the Catholic Church, in addition to obtaining abundant spiritual fruits.