The Second Vatican Council, fully the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican and informally known as Vatican II, addressed relations between the Catholic Church and the modern world. It was the twenty-first and most recent ecumenical council of the Catholic Church and the second to be held at Saint Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. The council, through the Holy See, formally opened under the pontificate of Pope John XXIII on October 11, 1962 and closed under Pope Paul VI on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, 1965.
Several changes resulted from the council, among them:
- The widespread use of vernacular languages in the Mass instead of Latin,
- The subtle disuse of ornate clerical regalia,
- The revision of Eucharistic prayers,
- The abbreviation of the liturgical calendar, and
- The ability for the officiant to celebrate the Mass facing the congregation.
"Vatican II ended the Latin mass; sent nuns from their cloisters and into the world; relaxed dietary restrictions, confessional obligations, and service attire for the laity; relinquished the Church’s claim of being the one true church; and officially renounced its claims to power in relation to nation-states.”
The term for this bringing things up-to-date and ridding the church of outdated practices and attitudes was aggiornamento, an Italian word meaning roughly "bringing up to date," that "will ever be associated with Pope John XXIII in the same manner that perestroika will always be with Mikhail Gorbachev."
- Pope John XXIII's 1963 encyclical on nuclear non-proliferation entitled Pacem in terris (Peace on Earth) is referenced - and seemingly countered - by the intercontinental ballistic missiles delivered during Vatican III in 1985 (Saint Fidgeta and Other Parodies, 90).
"Many of us did and do regard the council as a great liberating event. First, it reversed the church's siege mentality and called for an openness and outreach to all other Christians ('our separated brethren') and to other religions besides. It called for total elimination of anti-Semitism and promoted freedom of conscience. It encouraged greater participation by the laity in ecclesiastic affairs and for the first time encouraged laymen (and women) to pursue advanced degrees in theology. It swept aside the Index of Forbidden Books and it initiated a reform that nobody anticipated or even wanted - it eliminated the Latin mass in favor of saying it in the vernacular. This latter may seem a strange point to anyone who is not Catholic, but we mostly all liked the Latin mass and the assurance that it would be exactly the same all over the world. Not that we, the laity, could speak Latin; far from it! We used missals at mass, which contained Latin side by side with English translations, and it was a real art to maneuver through the missal between the parts of the mass that remained fixed and those parts that changed with the feast day."
Myers notes many laity blame the reforms on the decline in religious vocations that set in soon thereafter:
"Some said it narrowed the differences between priests and the laity and thus eliminated one of the chief attractions of following a religious vocation. Those of us who support Vatican II think that the decline is due to other causes, such as the increased prosperity and secularization of society. Vatican II caused some priests to expect that the celibacy requirement would soon be eliminated, but Pope Paul VI soon dashed those hopes. The chief reason however was Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae, which reiterated the ban on artificial birth control by married couples and was counter to the recommendations of his theologians and bishops. Though Bellairs and I and I think most Catholics viewed the Council as a great, positive event, there are those who think it was a disaster and the source of all the Church's current troubles."
Bowen notes that Paul VI was more timid about making changes and "Saint Fidgeta reflects a feeling of disillusionment that many of us had. Since the Popes that followed John XXIII have been cautious or conservative souls, no one has ever expected one of them to call a council. Councils have the potential for setting changes in motion, or at least raising expectations, in ways that conservative Popes would not like to see. It will probably take a miracle, or some sort of church calamity, to bring about another council. Bellairs sardonically imagines Vatican III as a right-wing reversal of Vatican II, but as I've said, church conservatives, who believe that absolute monarchy (within the Church) is a Good Thing, are happier when the Pope lets all the bishops stay home and communicates with them by Solemn Decree."