4 Main Goals of Vatican II 25

I was born the first, so-called, “cradle Catholic” in my family, into a Church of reform. My earliest church-going memories involve images of burlap banners, kumbaya bands singing “Sound of Silence” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” (offertory hymns), and bad, bad architecture.

I’m not mocking it. I’m just saying… Where have all the hippies gone? I’d like to know!

Whatever happened to the Spirit of Vatican II?

Tip of the hat to Marc Barns

There are two sides to every story. It was also a Church of reaction to reform, at times outspoken, at times reclusive and reticent.

I’ll admit that I found neither side very appealing. I was Catholic, because by the Grace of God, I was born in the Bible Belt. It wasn’t exactly Northern Ireland, but I could relate. You had to stick to your guns sometimes and stand up for your faith.

The diverse attitudes that challenged the integrity of the Catholic Church seemed to change in the 1990’s — thanks to the Great Pontificate of John Paul II, I believe. The spirit of renewal the Church was waiting for began to take effect.

I never realized you could pick up a copy of the Vatican II documents and actually read it until I was 20. Still today, most people don’t seem to realize you can access these documents and read them as easily as this: (go on, give it a try). I say this because, you’ll hear people talk about the retro-mentality of the Church all the time. But when you ask them simple questions just to see if they’ve actually read the Catechism (all it takes is a simple click), they get that deer-in-the-headlights look and stutter something like, “I j-j-j-just rem-m-m-membered… I’ve got to k-k-clean my hamster k-k-k-cage… See ya!”

See ya Elmer Fudd.

The same phenomenon would happen back in the early 90’s, when any suggestion that a given liturgical innovation might be a little heterodox would elicit the response, “Vatican II happened, you know?” And if you asked, “What were the four main goals of Vatican II?” You’d hear this: “Um… Umm. Reform…. Reform?… and… I think it was reform.”

“Nope. It was renewal, aggiornamento (getting up to date), ecumenism, and evangelization. It’s stated in the Second Vatican Council documents. Liturgical reform was part of the renewal and “aggiornamento,” but it wasn’t the only focus of the Council. Have you ever read a council document? This is the first paragraph of the Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.”

This sacred Council has several aims in view: it desires to impart an ever increasing vigor to the Christian life of the faithful; to adapt more suitably to the needs of our own times those institutions which are subject to change; to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ; to strengthen whatever can help to call the whole of mankind into the household of the Church. The Council therefore sees particularly cogent reasons for undertaking the reform and promotion of the liturgy.” — Sacrosanctum Concilium, 1

“Oh. Really? And what is all that supposed to mean?”

“It’s the New Evangelization, stupid.”

New Evangelization is the thrust of JP II’s teaching and the commission his successor Benedict XVI has handed us. I believe that New Evangelization is the true spirit of Vatican II. That means bringing the Church into the world today along the following lines:

  • Renewal: to impart an ever increasing vigor to the Christian life of the faithful
  • Aggiornamento: to adapt more suitably to the needs of our own times those institutions which are subject to change
  • Ecumenism: to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ
  • Evangelization: to strengthen whatever can help to call the whole of mankind into the household of the Church

The Pope himself is seeing to the liturgy. It’s in capable hands.

This week, I’d like to focus on each of these four goals in a separate post. Tomorrow’s post will be on the Church’s ever increasing vigor.


  1. So now I’m dating myself but my guitar and I were part of the first wave of church folk groups (the grandaddy of today’s praise and worship) who sang Blowin’ in the Wind as an offertory hymn….then along came JC Superstar and Godspell….(that’s another story). I look forward to your next few posts since the spirit of Vatican II, while I have tried to get through documents, read and watch DVDs, is still something I need to continue learning about. Mea culpa on Blowin’ in the Wind 😉

  2. In “the Spirit of Vatican II speak” the Renewal was allowing people to start feeling OK about themselves even if they didn’t hold to all of the teachings of the Church: that’s OK in New Church. Aggiornamento was turned into let’s try every “novelty” in the book. Folk Masses, liturgical dance, clown Masses for children – anything goes! Ecumenism meant I’m OK and you’re OK and there is no reason for you to become Catholic as we are all working toward the same goal: in other words pluralism. And finally “in the Spirit of Vatican II” Evangelization was to embrace false irenicism or the giving up of our principles in order to get our Church closer to the beliefs of others. I sure hope the Pope can pull us from the hole we’re desperately trying to crawl out of. I’ll look forward to your next post. You are so right that our people have no idea of what was actually contained in the documents: and I’m sad to say I have met priests that have never read them either. Sad stuff.

    • Admittedly, the clergy did take a hit during the 70′s and 80′s, and we’re still reeling from it, in some ways unmentionable. The JP II generation of bishops and priest seem to be leading a new charge, especially most recently on the issues of Life and Religious Freedom. There’s a lot to be done still and that’s where the laity need to step in more. First and foremost, we need to be more strengthened in the fundamentals of our faith. Our first call is the call to holiness. United to the vine, we will bear much fruit.

      Thanks for the comment!

    • Hello, Rebecca! My parents became converts in the first year of their marriage. I was cradled into it. I heard talk of Vatican II all throughout my CCD schooling, but did not think much of it other than I thought Mass in Latin would be strange and probably boring. I’ve learned there’s a bit more to it since then.

      The changes that came with Vatican II were all good, when they came in step with the Church’s timing. Some of the accelerated “reforms” caused a lot of confusion initially and some reforms made “in the spirit of Vatican II” were not really… kosher, i.e., they were based on interpretations that were not in line with the indications of the Council documents. In some instances, changes were implemented here in the U.S. before the council documents were issued in Rome, based on rumors about murmurings at the Vatican. A lot of the early backlash against Vatican II was due to hasty initiatives and poor explanation, which left a lot of people confused and resentful. Some became reactionary and tended to oppose anything that did not seem orthodox according to their own standards. For the most part, that all seems to be behind us now.

      I believe now, 50 years after the Council, we are only beginning to witness and live what Vatican II is all about. Perhaps the virtue the Holy Spirit wanted to teach his Church was patience.

  3. This is very interesting. It is amazing how much we can learn from each other.
    Back in the day when I was growing up, the knack on the Catholic Church was, “Mass was too boring.” There were no hands clapping and feet stomping.

  4. This is so interesting! I really look forward to your next posts on this topic.
    I was just a little kid, but was so happy when the priest turned around to face us, and spoke English. The Mass turned from a mysterious elitist thing where you brought something to do to pass the time (like read a book or say a rosary) to a communal form of worship that we were all a part of. Even as a child I could feel that difference. I could be part of it. And I suppose that hearing familiar music like Blowing in the Wind just made it more homey for me. 🙂
    In my iconography studies, I did seriously consider converting to Orthodoxy. A friend did just that. She told me the one thing that made me realize that I would never convert: She had to renounce her former (Catholic) beliefs. She said it was the hardest thing she had ever done. I knew then that I would never do that. Even just the surface comparison between the open, simple, elegant, welcoming litury of the Roman Mass and the complicated Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox, with the priest going behind doors to say the words of the Consecration in secret, and coming out to proclaim the Gospel . . . it was enough right there to make my decision. Frankly, though, if the Mass was still in Latin with the priest facing away and being far away, muttering foreignly to himself and an altar-boy . . . I think I would have switched religions in a heartbeat. I love the Orthodox faith, our “other lung” very much, but I love the Mass more. I look forward to learning more about the changes and intentions that happened when I was a child.

      • Around here it was a blend, with the more formal prayers (like our Eucharist Prayer) in Greek, most of it in English. The Russian was the same. I prefer the Russian style in art and worship, more emotional. The Serbian liturgy was really formal and traditional, with men and women separated. It is reeeeeeaaalllllyyy a long service. You stand for the whole thing. It is so long people wander in and out . . . very interesting indeed. Very beautiful. Very welcoming and gracious.

    • Thanks, Reinkat. This is very informative. I would like to learn more first hand about all of these different services and experience breathing more with both lungs. First, I’ll need to find out where the different places of worship are in my area (recently relocated, temporarily). There’s a Greek festival every year in Atlanta in the late summer or early fall, I believe. That will probably be a good place to start.

    • Ecumenism is a fascinating topic and one that the last two pontiffs have taken quite seriously. There certainly is a lot to be done in that area, “that they may all be one.”

  5. I have to admit that I loved listening to the folk group while growing up. One liturgy I enjoyed experiencing was the Byzantine Rite. I didn’t know that those were the four main goals of Vatican II. Thanks for the great post.

    • I liked the folk groups as a kid too. I thought they were cool. Although my personal tastes have changed regarding liturgical music — I’m more into “Faith of our Fathers” now — I’m happy there’s a variety of music out there to meet the sensitivities of almost every parishioner.

      I’ve never attended an Eastern Rite liturgy, but I would really like to. I need to get on line and see what is available in my area.

  6. The alarming part of a reliance on describing the ills of Vatican II, of which there were many, is the over reliance by some people to ascribe EVERY ill to Vatican II. This becomes their God, the central thesis in their theology.

    • Thanks for your comment. My intention here is not to describe the ills of Vatican II. Although I did jokingly reminisce about particular oddities in the early days of reform, I want to focus in the next few articles on positive. I agree mostly with what you are saying, though. As I mentioned, there was a reactionary trend that added to the confusion some people had regarding the Council. God bless!

  7. Oh, boy, do I remember the days of the hippies at church.

    Ugly banners, weird architecture and folk guitars as far as the eye could see. By the time I was in high school, I found myself involuntarily shuddering if the weekend mass turned out to be a “folk” mass: it’s seriously not my thing.

    On a related note, I was rather relieved when the 80s arrived.

    Excellent post, James. I just taped it up on the wall in my office.

    • When I was a kid, I liked the folk Mass, because we had a really talented group at our parish and the lead vocals/guitar was a really nice guy.

      I grew out of it. Now, If it’s out of the “Worship Hymnal,” I’m in.

      I’m glad you liked the post. God bless!

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