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What happened at Vatican II / the Second Vatican Council?

Vatican II, Second Vatican Council

The Second Vatican Council, also known as Vatican II, was convened in 1962 to deal with certain issues facing the Catholic Church. The council was convoked by Pope John XXIII on October 11, 1962, and concluded under Pope Paul VI on December 8, 1965. One of the goals of Vatican II was to provide clarity on the topic of the role of the church in relation to the world at large. Because of changes in culture due to modernism and postmodernism, it was decided that the church needed to update its procedures to become more relevant and accessible to modern people. As Pope John XXIII said, the church needed to “open the windows and let in some fresh air.”

The main issue discussed at Vatican II was ecumenism, that is, the relation of the Catholic Church to other religions and denominations within Christendom. The Second Vatican Council relaxed the attitude of the church toward other communities of faith. Emphasis was placed on reaching out to other religions to create conversation. Furthermore, Vatican II focused on what Catholicism calls the “Paschal Mystery,” which is the passion, death, resurrection, and glorification of Christ. This focus paved the way toward a closer relationship between Evangelical or Protestant churches and the Catholic Church. Other changes included the introduction of modern music to the church service, various changes to the liturgy (for example, the officiant could now face the congregation during Mass, rather than having his back toward them), and the performance of Mass in languages that could be understood by all, rather than in Latin. Vatican II dropped the rules forbidding Catholics from reading a Protestant Bible and from attending a Protestant service. The overall bent of the Second Vatican Council was to make the church more accessible to the layman and friendlier to Jews and others outside the Catholic fellowship.

For all the major changes the Second Vatican Council made to its administrative processes, it was careful not to change its doctrine. Vatican II affirmed the longstanding Catholic claim that the Roman Church is the only true church, although it did give Protestants a friendly overture in admitting that other churches might contain some elements of truth and referring to Protestants as “separated brethren.” Pope Paul VI, who oversaw the latter sessions of Vatican II, put forward a new doctrine that honored Mary as “the Mother of the Church.” In the end, the Vatican II Council updated the liturgy in order to make the church more acceptable to the twentieth-century world, but the result is still Catholicism, with all its false doctrine.

Reformed theologian Loraine Boettner, who lived in the time of Vatican II and studied it closely, wrote that the council “makes it abundantly clear that Rome has no intention of revising any of her basic doctrine, but only of updating her methods and techniques for more efficient administration and to present a more attractive appearance. This is designed to make it easier for the Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Protestant churches to return to her fold. There is no indication that she has any intentions of entering into genuine give-and-take church unity negotiations. Her purpose is not union, but absorption. Church union with Rome is strictly a one-way street. The age-old danger that Protestantism has faced from the Roman Church has not diminished; in fact, it may well have increased. For through this less offensive posture and this superficial ecumenicism, Rome is much better situated to carry out her program of eliminating opposition and moving into a position of world dominance. An infallible church simply cannot repent” (from the preface of Roman Catholicism, 1985).

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This page last updated: January 4, 2022