November 21: Fiftieth Anniversary of Three Vatican II Documents

Fifty years ago, on November 21, 1964, three important documents of the Second Vatican Council were promulgated – on the church, on Eastern Catholic churches, and on ecumenism.

Each document is important in its own right, of course, and deserves to be read as a whole. But Pray Tell readers will be interested in what each of these documents has to say about the liturgy, so we are excerpting from LG, OE, and UR those articles which treat the liturgy.

According to these documents of the Second Vatican Council, liturgy is an act of the whole church in which each member of the church has a role to play, Eastern Catholic churches are to recover and retain their own liturgical and spiritual traditions, and Catholics are to learn more about and seek commonalities with other traditions of prayer and worship. Running through all this is the theme of decentralization and respect for diversity.

Here are Pray Tell’s liturgy excerpts:

Don’t tell me you’ve read every document of Vatican II. (OK, some of you have. Perhaps many of you have, knowing you guys.) I’m sure all of us can benefit from taking a(nother) look at these three doc regarding liturgy. What strikes you? Any surprises, or themes you had forgotten are there? Anything which might be some of the “other half of Vatican II” that Pope Francis says we have yet to implement?





  1. Church as communio, collegiality, subsidiarity. Going against the idea that each diocese and each parish is a branch office of the headquarters in Rome.

    Does anyone think it’s time for Vatican III? Or perhaps Yamoussoukro I, which could be held in the Our Lady of Peace Basilica which is larger than St. Peter’s in Rome? To address issues of globalization, poverty, and climate change? Back when it took years for bishops to travel on foot to Rome and some died along the way, it made sense to call ecumenical councils on rare occasion. But with modern travel and communication, should not the world’s bishops gather more often, say every 50 years?

  2. In my view, the ease of bishops’ travel has little to do with when/how often a council should be called. As a matter of fact, that dynamic seems to reinforce the image of each diocese as a branch office of Rome; and it moves away from Church as communio to Church = hierarchy.
    The advantage of more widely-spaced Councils is the time that it gave their teachings/insights/changes time to seep into the Church, and to allow the Church time to discern and the Spirit to prompt what ought to be discussed at the next one. Granted, in this age of instant communication (first world, only, the one with the shrinking RC population) it may seem like teachings getting out will happen more quickly. But there’s a difference between the information getting distributed and the formation occurring.

  3. Could we start by implementing Vatican II’s elements of continuity with tradition that have been systematically ignored or ruthlessly suppressed for the past 50 years?

    1. @Peter Kwasniewski – comment #3:
      Well Peter, this is just a small piece of a larger discussion, and it’s one that we’ve had about a hundred times already at Pray Tell, so I’m not sure it’s useful to engage you or have the discussion yet again. Every postconciliar missal has in its front pages the statement that the missal of Paul VI is revised in accord with the decrees of the Second Vatican Council. I believe that, and my sense is that most PT readers believe that. You don’t, and we pretty much already know the contours of the argument why not. So let’s just leave it at that.

      1. @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #4:

        Father Anthony, I agree with you that PTB is not the place to rehash traditionalist objections to liturgical reform. PTB should be a space for modern Catholics (i.e. those who accept the liturgical reforms and live happily within them) to discuss among themselves. As a borderline-refusenik, I tend to be belligerent sometimes. It’s not my place and I should cut it out.

        However, when discussing the conciliar documents and the immediate postconciliar era in general, those who unhappily accept or even outright reject liturgical reform do have a place at the table of academic scholarship. A positive hermeneutic of conciliar change must also encounter a pessimistic hermeneutic. I would be extremely interested in reading a study of Catholic feminism from women who participate in a number of liturgical styles and perspectives, for example. Liturgical dissent, when “tamed” by academic convention, might have something to contribute to the running narrative of the Church.

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