A year to prepare

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Today marks the 49th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II, which means the church as a full year to prepare for the 50th anniversary celebrations. How will you get ready?

By guest blogger Ken Trainor

October 11 is the 49th anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council. It is also the feast of Blessed John XXIII. No coincidence, of course, since John is most closely identified with the council (though, to be fair, Paul VI did a lot of the heavy lifting).

We’re one year away from the 50th anniversary. Worth noting, certainly worth celebrating, but don’t look for the Vatican to go all out. That leaves it up to us, and why not? This, after all, was the council that called for a more active, participating, empowered laity, and one way to serve notice that the laity has awakened is to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Vatican II in your own parish.

The best way to celebrate is to tell the story of the Second Vatican Council because it’s a tale worth telling--about the Holy Spirit working through a flawed, human institution that learned it could change, renew, even resurrect. But to tell the story we have to learn the story, which many have forgotten--or never knew in the first place. This is not some lifeless historical event, dispassionately marked. It is an amazing story that needs to be told by people who believe in it.

Parishes will have to prepare, and they have a year to do so--through book clubs, panel discussions, reminiscences from those who were in Rome at the time, reading the council documents, and publishing passages from those documents in the parish bulletin.

If you want to get a sense of what happened 49 years ago, search YouTube for “Discorso della Luna,” the discourse on the moon, which took place in St. Peter’s Square the evening of Oct. 11, 1962, following the formal ceremonies opening the council. Several videos exist on YouTube. Watch them all. I think you’ll be inspired. It might even put you in a celebratory mood.

A spontaneous candlelight vigil took place, and Pope John came to his window to speak to those who jammed the square. His remarks were impromptu, simple, and human, like the pope himself--like no other pope before or since.

“Even the moon has rushed to join us tonight,” he said gesturing toward the sky. His voice sounded young, strong, vibrant. It was an unforgettable moment, witnesses say, and has become something of a legend in Rome.

 “For the church universal to receive the council is to enter into the dynamics of the council,” writes Rev. Ladislas Orsy, a Georgetown University Jesuit and canon law expert. “For communities and individuals to enter into the dynamics of the council is to expose themselves to the ever-surprising action of the Spirit. Whenever the Fathers gathered at St. Peter’s Basilica, their prayer was the traditional exclamation, Adsumus--‘we are present and listening.’ Over four years, the Spirit heard their cry and responded. … Over four years again, let the cry Adsumus resound--not within the walls of St. Peter’s Basilica but throughout the face of the earth. The Spirit of God will not fail to respond.”


By Ken Trainor, a practicing, progressive Catholic, who was 10 years old when Vatican II began. For the past 20 years, he has been a reporter, editor and weekly columnist for Wednesday Journal, a newspaper in Oak Park. You can find his column at OakPark.com/Opinion/KenTrainor. He is currently writing a book on Vatican II.

Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.