In honor of the celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has released a free version of a 2015 documentary devoted to the Council. Pray Tell is pleased to share this as part of our own continuing remembrance of the Council and its effects on the life of the Church.
The video, produced by Catholic News Service and entitled “Voices of Vatican II,” includes fantastic footage from the Council itself, along with narrative commentary by individuals who were themselves present at the Council. I found it particularly interesting to hear the voices of Pope Saint John XXII and Pope Saint Paul VI from the historical footage — the clip taken from John XXIII’s “moonlight speech” alone makes the film worth watching. We also get to hear each of them singing!
Some caveats are in order. First of all, we do need to remember it is somewhat dated. Released in 2015, it was obviously in the works beforehand. Seven of the speakers in the film have died since the filming. When it comes to liturgy, the dating shows. The presentation is skewed to Pope Benedict’s unique perspective: an emphasis on reading the Council documents, a basic affirmation of the Council alongside a fundamentally critical view of the reform’s implementation, and asserting that “we’ve only just begun” to realize the reform (really?).
Pope Francis appears only briefly, at the end, and in a non-speaking role. Clearly his appearance is an afterthought. Historians of our era will undoubtedly revise this picture considerably, as Pope Francis has become an important figure in the reception of the Council. Under Francis, the Council has more than ever been a visible influence — on everything from liturgy, to dialogue and discernment, to ecumenism and “opening to the world.”
This points us to the pivotal issue: How are we to view Vatican II today? The question is how shall we move from Vatican II as “lived history” (of which there are fewer and fewer witnesses) to Vatican II as “living legacy”? Pope Francis exemplifies the latter, as someone who was not present at the Council, but for whom the Council has become a lasting inspiration and lodestar of guidance for the future.
So, by all means let us enjoy the original footage, and listen to the words of those who took part in the event itself. But if we do nothing more than take a walk down memory lane — if the content of the Council does not live on, in us — we will have missed the great opportunity of our time.