Pope John XXIII calls Vatican II

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In the above historic photo, Pope John XXIII signs the Constitution Humanae salutis on December 25, 1960 thereby convening Vatican Council II. Angelo Roncalli was elected Pope John XXIII barely two years earlier. No one expected more than a transitional papacy from the 76-year old pontiff. Yet in January 1959, just a few months into his office, he announced plans for an Ecumenical Council to overhaul the Catholicism.

He opened the Council–popularly dubbed Second Vatican Council–but saw it through only the first session. As much as it is identified with John, he died June 3, 1963, before half of the Council was over and any of the documents had been promulgated. On his deathbed, John XXIII is rumoured to have said “Stop the council!”, but his successor Pope Paul VI continued the council which was to change the Catholic Church so much that has become barely a reflection of what it was before.

The Council produced 16 documents, which created more profound changes than all doctrines in the previous five hundred years combined and which transformed Catholic social teaching. The decisions of the Council, especially those regarding the liturgy, affected the lives of Catholics around the world. After Vatican II the use of the vernacular language was permitted in the celebration of the Mass and in 1970 the new Sacramentary and Novus Ordo (New Order of Mass) were established. Increased participation by the laity distinguishes Catholic life after the Second Vatican Council. Bible study groups, Marriage Encounter, social action organizations, and the charismatic renewal movement are all fruits of the Council.

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