What is Vatican II?

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:

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