Vatican Council II was the 21st general, or ecumenical, council of the Church (Oct. 11, 1962-Dec. 8, 1965). The council is regarded by many as the most significant religious event since the 16th-century Reformation and certainly the most important of the 20th century. The council produced 16 documents: four were constitutions, nine were decrees, and three were declarations. A constitution is a major document that intends to set a direction for the whole Church. A decree is a significant document, intended to foster further reflection and set a pace and direction for future discussion. A declaration is a statement of a theological position that is important for its influence on future dialogue.
Summary of Vatican II’s teachings:
- The Church is, first and foremost, a mystery, or sacrament, and not primarily an organization or institution.
- The Church is the whole People of God, not just the hierarchy, clergy, and religious.
- The Church’s mission includes action on behalf of justice and peace and is not limited to the preaching of the word and the celebration of the sacraments.
- The Church includes all Christians and is not limited exclusively to the Catholic Church.
- The Church is a communion, or college, of local churches, which are not simply administrative subdivisions of the Church universal.
- The Church is an eschatological community; it is not yet the reign of God.
- The lay apostolate is a direct participation in the mission of the Church, and not simply a sharing in the mission of the hierarchy.
- There is a hierarchy of truths; not all official teachings of the Church are equally binding or essential to the integrity of Catholic faith.
- God uses other Christian churches and non-Christian religions in offering salvation to all humankind; the Catholic Church is not the only means of salvation.
- The dignity of the human person and the freedom of the act of faith are the foundation of religious liberty for all.
Highlights from the Documents:
- The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church
- The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation
- The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy
- The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World
- The Decree on Communications
- The Decree on Ecumenism
- The Decree on Eastern Catholic Churches
- The Decree on the Bishops’ Pastoral Office
- The Decree on Priestly Formation
- The Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity
- The Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests