By Grady Stuckman, Franciscan University of Steubenville Alumnus
Given the critiques of Vatican II that emerged following Pope Francis’s recent decree on the Latin Mass, Clarifying Catholicism thought it would be a good idea to highlight ten admirable effects of this very important council.
1. Active participation at Mass.
Before the Council, especially in the United States, Low Masses were the norm rather than sung Masses. Because the priest was so quiet and often said Mass quickly, the people would simply make Mass into “quiet time with Jesus” rather than hearing the Word and meditating upon the Sacrifice being presented upon the altar. Vatican II sought to correct this by encouraging dynamic participation in the liturgy. While some parishes may have interpreted this shift as a license to take excessive liberties with the Liturgy, the Council was well-intentioned, and the principle of active participation is something that should be considered whether the Mass is celebrated according to any Missal (Sacrosanctum Concilium 14).
2. Encouragement of the laity to pray the Divine Office.
Especially before the 1911 reform, the rubrics of the Divine Office were complicated and were mostly prayed (or not said) by the clergy. Since the Divine Office is the liturgical prayer of the whole church, Vatican II encouraged the laity to learn the breviary and enrich the life of the Church by regularly praying it regularly, especially with others (Sacrosanctum Concilium 100).
3. Encouragement of Eucharistic Exposition.
As I stated before, prior to the Council, Mass was often made into “quiet time with Jesus.” This is problematic as the Mass is so much more than that– it is the perfect act of worship. Quiet time with Him outside of Mass should prepare one to participate more fully in that perfect act, and so exposition of the Blessed Sacrament outside of Mass became more common after Vatican II so as to bring about the proper orientation of devotion (Paul VI, Mysterium Fidei).
4. Acknowledging the unique customs and traditions of the Eastern Uniate Churches.
Especially in the United States, “Latin-centrism”, the phenomenon of thinking the Latin (or Roman) rite is inherently superior to the other rites of the Church, was a problem. This sense of Western ritual supremacy was disordered, as the Eastern rites in communion with the Pope are equally as Catholic as those in the West. As demonstrated in Orientale Lumen (“Light from the East”), Pope John Paul II especially used his pontificate to express recognition and celebration of Eastern Churches following Vatican II.
5. Emphasis on the collegiality of the bishops.
Especially in the nineteenth century, the Pope’s role as supreme head of the Church was over-emphasized to the point of near-idolatry at times (a heresy called “Ultramontanism”). Vatican II sought to correct this by emphasizing that the Pope exercises his authority within the context of all the other bishops of the world.
6. An understanding of the rights of the laity.
The 1983 Code of Canon Law, a fruit of the Council, developed the previous 1917 Code so to elaborate the role of the laity more in-depth. Most notably, the CIC uses “rights” in its discussion of the laity, emphasizing the truth that like all human authority, the authority exercised through ecclesiastical governance has limits.
7. Encouragement of frequent reception of Communion.
Before Vatican II, the Eucharist was often only received by the laity a few times a year due its status as a special gift that should not be taken for granted. While there is wisdom in this view, St. Thomas Aquinas likens Communion to bodily nourishment, so he encourages frequent Communion. St. Pius X sought to bring this recommendation of the Angelic Doctor to the whole Church, so he lowered the minimum age for Communion to receive to a young age. Likewise, Vatican II encourages frequent reception of Communion arguably more than any other modern Church Council (Apostlicam Actuositatem).
8. Development of the theology of marriage and procreation.
While Castii Conubii discussed the evils of divorce, Humanae Vitae, a fruit of the Council, discussed two evils directly opposed to marriage: abortion and contraception, practices that contradict the unitive and procreative nature of marriage, exposed by Pius XI and developed by Paul VI. The theological foundations that Paul VI laid paved the way for John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, a remedy for the Gnostic characteristic of the feminist and LGBT+ movements.
9. Encouragement of Gregorian plainchant at the liturgy.
Pius X encouraged this in a motu propio, Tra le sollecitudini, and Vatican II affirmed that Gregorian plainchant should have “pride of place” at the liturgy– meaning that Gregorian plainchant should be the preferred and normative style of music within the Western rite (Sacrosanctum Concilium 116.). While the realization of Sacrosanctum Concilium’s wishes might have been poor in some parts of the world, the Second Vatican Council’s encouragement of Gregorian Chant keeps this ancient practice alive.
10. Restoration of Communion by intinction.
Vatican II provided for three ways to receive the Precious Blood– the common method of reception seen in most diocesan parishes (one receives the Blood separate from the Body), receiving by a straw (which is how the Pope traditionally receives, since at the solemn papal liturgy, he communicates sitting down), and receiving by intinction, in which the minister dips the Body into the Blood and distributes it on the tongue (see USCCB Norms for Distribution and Reception under both Kinds). This method of intinction is more in communion in the Eastern Churches and, according to Philip Gray, J.C.L., was the norm in the West until the Utraquist controversy. With the fear of spreading germs via the chalice in recent years, intinction might be a good way to balance precaution against disease with the desire for the laity to receive both species.