Unexpectedly announced at the beginning of 1959, the Second Vatican Council was not only the most important religious event of the twentieth century but also the largest meeting of Christian bishops ever to have been held in history. It took place almost a century after the previous Vatican Council (1869-1870), interrupted by the taking of Rome. And above all the world had completely changed.
Its preparation lasted almost four years. Then 11 October 1962 to 8 December 1965 was the period of the Council that was held in the autumn months of those four unrepeatable years. In a context of changes and optimism it sparked widespread interest — something hitherto unknown — in the Church of Rome and in her desire to renew herself.
Half a century after its opening the time has come for Vatican II to be understood in history, at the level of faith, and to overcome the mythicizing in both the negative and positive sense which was at the root of bitter disputes on its historical and theological interpretation. It was almost a war, not of course new in the history of the Councils, but which did not in fact encourage the knowledge or reception of the Second Vatican Council.
With this special issue, edited with enthusiasm by Francesco M. Valiante, L’Osservatore Romano seeks to offer a simple overview but which has the merit of going back to the conciliar season, to attempt as far as possible to restore to it reality, all too often dulled by conflicting interpretations. With texts and images from those years or inspired by them, such as the splendid cover by Isabella Ducrot.
Certain texts of the Popes who guided the Council or who lived through it as bishops recall its historical authenticity as an assembly of Christ’s Church. Joseph Ratzinger, who took part in it as a young theologian, was one of them. Moreover a test of Benedict XVI, unpublished and anticipated here, dates back right to the opening of Vatican II; it will introduce the forthcoming publication of his conciliar writings, to help us in this Year of Faith to understand and live it.
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