Lumen Gentium 2012
October 20, 2012
The “Constitution on the Church” of the Second Vatican Council
In this year of faith we would like to reflect about the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Documents of the II Vatican Council, with some order. And I would like to start today with the most important document of the II Vatican Council, which is called “Lumen Gentium”, about the Mystery of the Church. But first, let’s see what the II Vatican Council is.
I clarify that I chose this subject because it is related to the Gospel, in the sense that the authority of the Church is like the authority of Jesus, a leadership in service.
An Ecumenical Council
The II Vatican Council was the 21st Ecumenical Council in the Catholic Church. An Ecumenical Council is a gathering of bishops from all over the world, who together with the pope issue doctrinal or pastoral documents for the universal Church. Many of the councils were intended to combat wrong doctrines, others just to unite and fortify the Church. The first was the Council of Nice, and in that council they redacted the long creed of the Mass. Another council was Trent, 1564. Three hundred years after Trent came the I Vatican Council (1870), interrupted by a war, in which the only thing they could do was to declare the infallibility of the pope in faith and moral matters. Almost a hundred years after, we had the II Vatican Council.
The II Vatican Council
The idea of this council was not mainly to combat heresy, but, according to pope John XXIII, it was to express the doctrine of the Church in such a way that it may be understood and welcome by everyone. It was to foster the true renewal of the Church, through an updating and adaptation of the Church to the new conditions. That’s why in the II Vatican Council we may see at the same time fidelity to the traditional doctrine and a sound renewal and adaptation to the new circumstances. It is not different the doctrine, but only the way in which the doctrine is presented. It is not different the faith, but the circumstances in which we must live our faith. The II Vatican Council established a dialogue with the modern world, and in that way it was a grace for the Catholic faithful, because we could again reconnect our faith with our daily life.
Some people say that the II Vatican Council changed the Catholic doctrine. That’s absolutely not true. If you read it, and you read the quotations and notes, all of them are taken from Trent, Vatican I, St. Thomas Aquinas, the Fathers of the Church and the documents of the popes before the Council. II Vatican Council repeats the doctrine of the infallibility of the pope, of the one Catholic and apostolic Church, the centrality of the Eucharist, importance of celibacy, the sanctity of marriage, etc. The doctrine is not changed. But the presentation is new, is friendly, is appealing to the modern heart.
There are people who didn’t read the Vatican II, but they use the Vatican II as an excuse to change the doctrine of the Church, or support doctrines against the tradition. Ask them to show you a quotation. Not a quotation out of context, but a real one. You will see.
There is a renewal, but it is in the understanding of the modern world, and in the adaptation of the life of the Church to the new circumstances: the life in the cities, the globalization, the mass media, social injustice, war, arms race, existential void. Those are the modern problems and, in the documents of the II Vatican Council, the Church gives light to the nations with the Gospel of Jesus, who is the light of the world.
Probably the most important document of the II Vatican Council is the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, which is called “Lumen Gentium”, Latin for “Light of the nations”. The II Vatican Council issued 16 documents, this is the first one we will look at. Today I will just give an introduction.
Lumen Gentium is a doctrinal document, it is an explanation of what the Church is. And this may be our first surprise: for Lumen Gentium, the Church is not primarily a social institution or structure, it is a mystery, and because of that, a social institution. Like Jesus, the Church is something we can see, but at the same time there is a deeper reality that we cannot see, and this is the substance of the rest.
The Church is «as a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of an intimate union with God and of the unity of the whole human race» (LG 1). The Church is the people of God, it is in a certain way the kingdom of God, it is a vine, a temple, a body, a mystery of communion… Lumen Gentium leads us to understand what the Church is, who belongs to the Church, how the structure of the Church is, what the purpose of the Church is, which is holiness, and who the model of the Church is, that is, the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Next Sunday we will deepen a little more in this beautiful Document. But I invite you this week to read “Lumen Gentium”, that is, the Constitution on the Church of the II Vatican Council. You may find it in the Vatican website:
May God lead us to understand the mystery of the Church. We are that mystery, together with Jesus. May we live our daily lives as worthy members of so noble a Body.
This is a copy of the Icon blessed by Bishop De Angelis on the occasion
of the Opening Mass for the Year of Faith.