50 Years


On January 25, 1959, Pope John XXIII announced his intention to call a Church Council.  This is a good time to consider the results of Vatican II.

As a practical matter, I believe the Church as an earthly institution  has been in decline by most measurements, mass attendance, ordinations, numbers of nuns, sisters and brothers,  since 1965.  The ever-reticent Gerald Warner, expresses himself on this point in the Daily Telegraph.  Hattip to the Lair of the Catholic Cavemen.  I think the decline is undeniable, but is it fair to blame Vatican II?  Would the Church have experienced the same turbulence, or even worse, without Vatican II?  I doubt it.  The Church had thriven in the hostile environment of the first half of the Twentieth Century, when malevolent atheist ideologies, such as Nazism and Communism, had launched unceasing assaults on the Church.   Odd that the Church could so well weather this storm and then encounter such difficulties in the relatively calm seas of the latter Twentieth Century.  Plus, the collapse came on so rapidly after the Council that it is hard to resist the temptation to believe that there has to be some link.  It also didn’t help that Paul VI was a very good man, but also a very weak pope.

Of course much, although not all, of the difficulties of Vatican II are caused by misinterpretations of what the Council did and what the Council actually stated.  Father Z, of the always worth reading What Does the Prayer Say, recently fisked, in his usual robust style, a newspaper column that repeated the common foolishness that Vatican II “liberated” Catholics from superstitious and medieval observances.  The “spirit of Vatican II” is often responsible for idiocies within the contemporary Church that most of the participants in Vatican II never, in their wildest nightmares, intended.

Those of course who decry Vatican II as a false Council and/or Blessed Pope John as a false pope are completely wrong.  Also wrong are those who believe the Church truly started only in 1965 at the end of the Council.  The Church is an earthly and a sacred institution with an eventful history of 2000 years during which the Church, as an earthly institution, has had its ups and its downs.  Recently the Church, at least in the Western world, has been very much in a down period.  The fiftieth anniversary of the calling of Vatican II is a good opportunity for Catholics to ponder why this has been the case and what each one of us can do to reverse this.

10 Responses to 50 Years

  1. Gerard E. says:

    Stuff happens. Hard to build a house in the center of a hurricane. Hard to implement the good fruits of the Council during the howling and raging of the GoGo 60s. As many of our folk with alleged vocations went buck wild, bowing to the weird trends of a weird era. Out of that ferment emerged our beloved Johannes Paulus may he get the Big Halo soon. Who dedicated his pontificate to the proper implementation of V2. Possibly did far more. Meanwhile a good time to remember fondly our beloved Blessed Pope John and pray for his intercession in our hard cold world. With fewer geetar Masses, please.

  2. Matt McDonald says:


    excellent post. Here’s a little known item on Bl. John XXIII. He is lying in St. Peter’s Basilica in a glass sarcophagus, looking as well as he did they day he died. He was embalmed, so he will never be declared incorruptible, but it is quite amazing how well preserved he is considering he’s been dead so long.

  3. Matt McDonald says:

    Hard to build a house in the center of a hurricane.

    The lesson may be… don’t try to do a lot of home renovations during a hurricane…. 🙂

  4. The lesson may be… don’t try to do a lot of home renovations during a hurricane


    Though in that regard, I can’t helping thinking that Vatican II would have been safely and better carried out in the 20s or 30s rather than the 60s.

    And, of course, I think it would have helped if some of the visual changes were much more incremental. (For instance, I imagine there would have been much less split over the mass if it had been required that all of the Novus Ordo except the readings be said in Latin, and greater use of the vernacular only very gradually introduced.)

    Either way, all traditional religions took a beating in the 60s and 70s — the Orthodox and conservatives Jews no less so than Catholicism. Perhaps it was just a bad time.

  5. Matt McDonald says:


    I quite agree. In many ways VII’s reforms perhaps should have been part of VI which was interrupted before it had run it’s course due to wars.

    if it had been required that all of the Novus Ordo except the readings be said in Latin

    It was according to Sacrosanctum Concillium and a number of exhortations from Paul VI. Only the propers were to be in vernacular and only on a limited basis.

    and greater use of the vernacular only very gradually introduced.

    of course this was never called for by V-II, or Paul VI. By the time JP II it was a ‘fait accompit’. Benedict has been attempting to reverse this course along with all of the other excesses, with some notable success, but much work to complete.

  6. Tito Edwards says:

    It normally takes a generation or two after a council for the Church to settle and right its course.

    We need to continue to pray and be witnesses to our faith to get through these times.

  7. JPII and B16 were and are major advocates of the Council. That’s good enough for me. 🙂

    More substantially, recall that many of the problems came not in 1965, but after 1968, i.e. after the dissent regarding Humane Vitae and after the “cultural revolutions” in Europe and the US. I agree with those who argue that the Church might well have been *worse* off in facing the post-’68 world without the Council, and I concur with Tito that upheaval after a Council is the historical norm.

    Incidentally, both JPII and B16 argue/d that the Council had yet to be fully implemented, and I concur with that as wel… we did the “easy” stuff (and in some cases [liturgy] did so poorly), but the more substantial renewal remains unaccomplished.

  8. Donald R. McClarey says:

    When the secular world was going through a period of chaotic change in the sixties, it was inopportune, to say the least, that Vatican II gave the impression to quite a few Catholics that suddenly everything was up for grabs. Small wonder that Humanae Vitae came as a shock to many Catholics, since so many earthshaking changes had come so swiftly that they could be excused for thinking that yet another change from tradition was in the offing.

    Two questions that I would throw out for analysis: What has the Church, if anything, gained by Vatican II that was lacking in the Church prior to Vatican II? What, if anything, is the Church post Vatican II lacking that the Church prior to Vatican II possessed?

  9. Donald, to your first paragraph I’d reiterate what I noted above: the cultural turmoil didn’t occur for years *after* the Council. John didn’t call the Council in the midst of turmoil, nor did the Council convene in the midst of turmoil. Rather, it all happened some years later.

    I’m not sure what to make of your two questions… I think they could be posed to virtually any Council, given that the Deposit of Faith is one and the same throughout time.

  10. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Differ with you as a matter of historical fact Chris. Sixty-eight was a high point of the turmoil in the US, but the entire sixties was a period of rapid and chaotic change throughout most of the world. Sixty-eight was merely a display case for trends already well under way. That this was thought so at the time is demonstrated by many contemporary documents available on the net. I would direct your attention to Time January 4, 1963 in the issue where Pope John XXIII was declared Man of the Year:

    “By launching a reform whose goal is to make the Catholic Church sine macula et ruga (without spot or wrinkle), John set out to adapt his church’s whole life and stance to the revolutionary changes in science, economics, morals and politics that have swept the modern world: to make it, in short, more Catholic and less Roman.”


    This statement I find hilarious from the Time article in light of the experience of the last 45 years: “The great majority of Protestant and Catholic clergymen and theologians—as well as many non-Christians—agree that Christianity is much stronger today than it was when World War II ended. Their reason is not the postwar “religious revival” (which many of them distrust as superficial) or the numerical strength of Christianity. It is that the Christian Church has finally recognized and faced the problems that have cut off much of its communication with the modern world. Says Notre Dame’s President Theodore Hesburgh: “We better understand the job that is before us. The challenge is to make religion relevant to real life.””

    As for my two questions, the Deposit of the Faith is the same always for the Church as a sacred institution in eternity. Here on earth, and in time, the Church as an earthly institution has differed greatly in what it has emphasized and what it has not over time and also with the success it has met with. For example, the somewhat moribund Church of the Avignon Papacy had precisely the same Deposit of the Faith as the dynamic Church of the Counter Reformation, yet the Church in these time periods differed greatly on many points, and also as to the success with which the gospel of Christ was presented to the world during these two ages. I have always thought that an examination of how the Church has functioned in different ages as an earthly institution can be useful in helping to understand the problems and successes of the Church in current times.

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