October 11, 1962 was a turning point for modern Catholicism: The Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican (Vatican II) was opened by Pope Saint John XXIII. The Council brought bishops and theologians from around the world to address problems faced by the Church and its people. The Council's significance was so great that it is common to hear people talk about "pre-Vatican II" and "post-Vatican II."
Over the course of four sessions ending in December 1965, 16 documents were produced that addressed issues of the Church in the modern world. The changes that came out of these documents are still discussed and debated today.
A letter sent to bishops in the Canadian Catholic Conference contained text of a July 1962 statement of Pope Saint John XXIII explaining his inspiration for calling the Council:
"Let us take, for example, the idea of the ecumenical council. How did it happen? How did it develop? It happened in such a way that to relate it seems unreal, because so suddenly did the thought arise of such a possibility and too, the determination to apply Ourselves to carrying it out.
"A question posed during a particular conversation with the Secretary of State, Cardinal Tardini, brought forth the observation of how the world is immersed in serious distress and agitation. We pointed out, among other things, how it is claimed that people want peace and agreement but, unfortunately, sometimes it happens that ultimately disagreements become more acute and threats are increased.
"What will the Church do? Must the Mystical Barque of Christ remain at the mercy of the waves and go adrift? Is there not rather expected from the Church not only an admonishment, but also the light of great example? What could this light be?
"The questioner was listening with an attitude of reverent respect and expectation. Suddenly Our soul was enlightened by a great idea that We felt just at that moment, and which We welcomed with indescribable trust in the Divine Master; one solemn and binding word came then to Our lips. Our voice expressed it for the first time: a council!
"To tell the truth, at once the fear arose that this might cause perplexity, if not dismay. Undoubtedly, We would now have to listen to a list of grave difficulties, if for no other reason than that the sudden announcement would lead to the thought of a natural and lengthy preparation that such an aim would entail.
"Instead, the answer came without delay. A clear feeling beamed over the face of the Cardinal: his assent was immediate and exultant.
"This was a first definite sign of God's will. Who does not, in fact, know the necessary and attentive consideration with which the Roman Curia customarily examines the major and minor questions that present themselves? (PO VA14.04)"
Here in the archives, we have records from five of our bishops who attended the Council: Cardinal McGuigan, Archbishop Pocock, Cardinal Carter, Bishop Marrocco, and Bishop Allen. We have previously written about the commemorative rings they all received, but there are many other documents of historical significance in our storage rooms.
|Commemorative edition of Humanae Salutis, the document convoking the Second Vatican Council. The last pages contain the signatures of all the cardinals.
"The forthcoming Council, then, will meet happily and at a moment in which the Church has a more lively desire to fortify her faith and to contemplate herself in her own awe-inspiring unity, just as she feels the more urgent duty to give greater effectiveness to her healthy vitality and to promote the sanctification of her members, the spread of revealed truth, and the consolidation of her structures. This will be a demonstration of the Church, always living and always young, that feels the rhythm of time, that in every century beautifies herself with new splendor, radiates new light, achieves new conquests, all the while remaining identical to herself, faithful to the divine image impressed on her face by her divine Bridegroom, who loves her and protects her, Christ Jesus." (translation)
December 25, 1961
ARCAT Artifacts Collection
|Pope Saint John XXIII greeting Cardinal McGuigan during preparatory meetings at the Church of the Canadian Martyrs in Rome.
ARCAT Photo Collection
|A letter which includes instructions for what to wear to the Council. Can you imagine the big task of making sure over 2000 participants were dressed appropriately?
August 9, 1962
Archbishop Pocock Fonds
Philip Pocock attended the Council while Auxiliary Bishop of Toronto. Though his fonds is not yet available to researchers, it contains several boxes of documents and notes from his work during that time. An especially exciting item is his handwritten diary from the first session of the Council. It details behind-the-scenes discussions and his personal thoughts and reflections. On December 16, 1962 he wrote,
"On Dec. 8 the solemn closing of the first session took place. All the Fathers joined in the singing of the Gregorian at the Pontifical mass. It was very powerful and beautiful. At the end of the mass the Holy Father walked in, took his throne and spoke to us for about a half hour. He again stressed the pastoral purpose of the Council. Much work would be accomplished in the interval before the reopening of the Council, September 8/63. He seemed to be well and his voice was strong, However, I fear that he is suffering from a chronic disorder, perhaps cancer. (PO AA13.03)"Pope Saint John XXIII would die within six months, but his successor, Pope Saint Paul VI would continue the work of the Council.
|Bishop Pocock in St. Peter's Square during the first session of the Council.
ARCAT Photo Collection
|We are lucky to have a box of newspapers and magazines with articles about the Second Vatican Council in Archbishop Pocock's fonds. Included are titles such as Life, Newsweek, and The New Yorker, to name a few.
Archbishop Pocock Fonds
Here's a bonus note from Archbishop Pocock to the Chancery Office sent during the Council's last session in 1965. It is a transcription of a dictaphone recording: