e-mail us

Cover story
Vatican II: 40 years later

From the Editor

On the night of Oct. 11, 1962, the day the Second Vatican Council began, Pope John XXIII appeared at his window in answer to the chanting and singing below from a crowd estimated at a half million people assembled in St. Peter’s Square.

As the late Peter Hebblethwaite recounted in his book, John XXIII, Pope of the Council:

“John appeared at his window and cried: ‘Dear children, dear children, I hear your voices.’ In the simplest language, he told them about his hopes for the council. He pointed out that the moon, up there, was observing the spectacle. ‘My voice is an isolated one,’ he said, ‘but it echoes the voice of the whole world. Here, in effect, the whole world is represented.’ He concluded: ‘Now go back home and give your little children a kiss -- tell them it is from Pope John.’ One could almost touch the emotion. The ‘patriarch’ gave and generated love with all his being.”

On that first night of the council, the battle of ideas and of structures had already begun. Years of work and compromise, countless words and conversations, endless wrangling over documents would both produce and accompany a sea change in the church. However, for all of the lofty words and exhaustive scholarship that went into the council, the historic gathering was infused with the deep and stirring humanity of its author.

Consider the following special report on the 40th anniversary of Vatican II our attempt to continue to pass on some of the affection that Pope John so easily radiated for all people.

--Tom Roberts

linked button Essay - The council we are still living

linked button The Second Vatican Council: A Timeline

linked button A Council Primer

linked button He answered papal summons to journalism

linked button Voices: council a vital boost to Hispanic identity

linked button Voices: Doorway to conversion and theology

linked button Story of council in books, tapes

linked button Grateful for Vatican II, even when we ‘get it wrong’

linked button Other reactions to Vatican II

linked button Daybreak on a new kind of church

linked button Crafting a vision of a bishops’ conference, then unmaking it

linked button Across the Age Spectrum - Council was a radical conversion process

linked button Across the Age Spectrum - Taking the idea of ‘people of God’ to heart

linked button Across the Age Spectrum - A GenXer looks forward, looks back

linked button Across the Age Spectrum - A moment on the way to somewhere else

linked button In religious life, a chance to choose again

linked button Bishops too had to re-learn ‘being church’

linked button Jump-starting the conversation between Jews and Catholics

linked button Council advanced rediscovery of Christian family

linked button Could the architects be deconstructing?

A Vatican II Glossary


During the years of the council, many technical “church terms” and Latin expressions found their way into everyday parlance as newspapers reported on the workings of the council and pastors and church leaders began explaining its workings. Here are a few of the most frequently used terms:

Aggiornamento: Italian for “updating”; used by Pope John XXIII to describe the church’s need to renew and update itself through the Second Vatican Council.

Aula:Latin for “hall,” during the Roman Empire the site of major academic and civic discussions; during Vatican II the nave of St. Peter’s Basilica was known as the aula, the place where the council deliberations were held.

Ecumenical: Literally “universal,” from the Greek oikoumene, the inhabited world. Commonly used to identify the church’s general councils. In the movement for Christian unity, the noun ecumenism has become synonymous with “striving for reunification” among the Christian churches.

Motu proprio: Latin “on his own initiative.” A papal document originating from the pope’s own office. Many of the changes prescribed during the Second Vatican Council were given practical application by this type of document.

People of God: Biblical term popularized by Vatican II as an image of the church, and by extension the whole human family. Based primarily on a text of Ezekiel (37:26-27): “My dwelling place shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” The council gave the people of God image an entire chapter in its “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church” and placed it before the chapter on the hierarchy to emphasize that the church is a community first, with a hierarchical structure, not primarily a top-down structure with individuals as subjects.

Peritus: Latin for “expert.” During the Second Vatican Council many bishops brought along their own periti in various disciplines, such as scripture, canon law or theology, to help their understanding of a topic and decision making.

Schema: from the Greek, a diagram, plan or outline. During the council, many of the schemas for the various documents were, in effect, working drafts.

Sources: Encyclopedia of Catholicism, edited by Fr. Richard McBrien; Pocket Catholic Dictionary, by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ; The Catholic Source Book by Fr. Peter Klein.

National Catholic Reporter, October 4, 2002