Monday, October 8, 2012

October 11, 1962 – Fifty Years Later


     It was a majestic sight!  Rain had poured down in Rome early in the morning, but then bright sun broke through. 

     And a procession of 2,500 Bishops from 79 countries made its way across the Piazza di S. Pietro, accompanied by the sung Litany of the Saints, then turning to enter the great Basilica.  At the end came Pope John XXIII on the sedia gestatoria, carried so the crowds could see him, joyfully blessing them as the Second Vatican Council opened.

     Thursday, October 11, the feast of the Divine Maternity of the Virgin Mary, was the date chosen by the Pope -- to show continuity back to the Council of Ephesus (431 AD) when Christian belief was upheld in Mary as Theotokos, Mother of God, “Mater Dei” – which upheld Faith in the divinity of her Son, Jesus Christ.

     A young American priest assisting at the Council – Fr. Justin Rigali (later a Bishop, Archbishop and Cardinal) -- would write in perspective that all of what Vatican II endeavored to do was “to speak about Jesus” to the world. 

     Once inside the Basilica, Pope John preached that “the greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more effectively,” for the Church must never depart “from the sacred patrimony of truth received from the Fathers.” 

     Yet, at the same time, the Church “must ever look to the present, to the new conditions and forms of life introduced into the modern world, which have opened new avenues to the Catholic apostolate...”

  “The substance of the ancient doctrine, the Deposit of Faith, is one thing; the way in which it is presented is another.”

     Each in tall miter and white cope, the Bishops listening inside the Council aula were truly “catholic” – meaning “universal”.  38% were European; 31% were from the Americas; 20% came from Asia and Oceania, and 10% from Africa.  Sadly, almost 200 Bishops from the Eastern bloc Communist-controlled countries were not able to attend.

     The Bishops had left their episcopal sees, without clearly knowing when they would return home.  One, the 83 year old missionary Bishop Ashton Chichester, had served since 1929 in Rhodesia (which would later become the country known as Zimbabwe).  The first Archbishop of Salisbury, he had almost reached the main door of St. Peter’s on his way into the Council when he collapsed on the steps leading to the Basilica and died. 

       That night, a brother Bishop remarked on Vatican Radio, how much Bishop Chichester “loved the Holy See.  He longed for a Council, and hoped that he would live to attend one.  Bishop Chichester felt in his heart both the perennial stability and the imperishable youth of the Church”  ...

     ...  like that other octogenarian, John XXIII, who sat in the Chair of St. Peter.

   --     Monsignor John T. Myler

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