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Online Retreat 2013: The Spirituality of Vatican II

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On October 11 of this year Catholics began to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of what most people agree is the most important religious event in the last hundred years: the Second Vatican Council, or Vatican II. The Council began on that day—October 11—in 1962 and met officially every fall for four years, concluding on December 8, 1965.

While the church in some ways always remains the same, what Vatican II showed was that it could also change quite significantly. As Pope John XXIII said in his famous opening address at the Council, the substance of the faith is one thing, the way it is presented is another. Pope John believed that, for the sake of the unchanging gospel, the church needed to update itself, and so present itself to the world in a new way in new time in history. And so, in the years during the Council and the years following it, the church changed quite profoundly. The liturgy began to be celebrated in local languages; the laity took on a new prominence in the church; Catholics were encouraged to read and study the Bible; Protestants and even people of other religions were no longer looked upon as enemies but as sisters and brothers in the faith or seeking to please God in their own religions; sisters moved out of cloisters and habits; priests were trained in a more open way and were encouraged come off their pedestals and live among women and men as brothers.

Fifty years is a long time, and for most young adults today even their parents had not been born when Vatican II opened in 1962! But this does not mean that Vatican II is an irrelevant piece of history. In fact, in an institution like the Catholic Church, fifty years is a very short period of time, and in many ways Vatican II is only now beginning to be understood for the important moment in the church’s history that it was.

It is for this reason that we on the Catholics on Call staff thought that Vatican II should be the theme of this year’s online retreat. We believe that Vatican II, besides being an important institutional event, was also an important spiritual event, and contains within its documents a very rich and deep spirituality. We think that young adults could really profit from a guided approach to the powerful and beautiful ideas that the Council presented.

Our online retreat this year will introduce you to some of the great spiritual ideas of Vatican II, help you reflect on them, and help you pray with them. At the beginning of every week we will offer a general introduction to a particular Council document. Then every day we will offer a short text from that document, pose a question or two for your reflection, and suggest a short prayer based on the text for the day.

This first week of January will focus on the first document issued by the Council in 1963: the document on the Liturgy.

Next week we will focus on the document on Divine Revelation, the document that encouraged Catholics to read and study the Bible and helped people understand that Christianity is not just about believing a lot of doctrines, but living a life of real relationship with God.

The third week of January we will reflect together on the Council’s great document on the church—the document which taught that the church is first and foremost a community, a communion of people, in which all are called to holiness and all are called to ministry.

In week four we will encounter what many people consider as Vatican II’s masterpiece: its document on the Church in the Modern World. This is a document which begins by emphasizing that “the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the women and men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these too are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.”

We suggest that you take about twenty minutes each day to read the text slowly and carefully, reflect on the questions posed, and then pray the prayer that we offer for that day. We are aware that sometimes the documents sound a little stuffy and abstract, but try and concentrate on them as best you can. They really touch on some important things. If you would like to share your thoughts and insights with others, please join one of our Facebook groups:
Facebook groups for alums
Facebook group for partners

If you are interested in a longer piece to read any time during the month, we’ve attached an article by Steve Bevans called “A Day without Vatican II.” (A DAY WITHOUT VATICAN II.pdf ) If you want to read any of the documents of the council, you can find them at http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/index.htm. You might also be interested in reading Keys to the Council: Unlocking the Teaching of Vatican II by Richard R. Gaillardetz and Catherine E. Clifford (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2012) and/or A Concise Guide to the Documents of Vatican II by Edward P. Hahnenberg (Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2007).

Have a wonderful retreat!

Steve Bevans, SVD
CoC Faculty Moderator


Week One: Vatican II and the Liturgy

Week Two: Vatican II, Revelation and the Bible

Week Three: Vatican II, the Church, and Ministry

Week Four: Vatican II and the Church in the Modern World


Image by Franklin McMahon, Opening Procession, 1962, Second Vatican Council, 22 x 30, watercolor on paper.

This image is part of an exhibit currently held at Catholic Theological Union under the title "The World of Vatican II: An Artist's Report."
Dates: September 30, 2012 through January 7, 2013.

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