RE ATAR Unit 3 - the significance of one religious event from the past



50 years after Vatican II


Pope John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council, or Vatican II, in 1959, not long after his election to the papacy. It was the first such council in the Catholic Church since Vatican I, which was held from 1869 to 1870. Vatican II opened formally in 1962 and closed in 1965. Both John and his successor, Pope Paul VI, saw the council as an opportunity for the Catholic Church to come to terms with the challenges of modernity. Pope John viewed it as an expression of aggiornamento, which means, “to bring the church up to date.” Aggiornamento was thought of partly as the fostering of new dialogues between the Catholic Church and the non-Catholic world. Vatican II, therefore, included non-voting observers from other denominations, a notable development for a church that in the past century had condemned modernism and that had been reluctant to engage in ecumenism.

As part of this spirit of openness, for the first time, the episcopacy at the council also shared space with Catholic lay men and women. While Vatican II is often described as a revolutionary event in modern Catholicism, in some respects, it also hearkened back to the church’s past, as proponents of liturgical reform, for instance, looked to previous modes of worship as a means of renewal. Theologian John W. O’Malley cites both aggiornamento and ressourcement, or “a return to the sources,” as Vatican II’s principal overarching themes.

The council’s four sessions produced a number of constitutions, declarations, and decrees that charted the future course of the Catholic Church, both hierarchically and at the local level, the latter of which served as the setting for some of the most consequential changes of the postconciliar years, including vernacular worship, reformations of religious orders, and expanded roles for laypeople, including women, in both worship and church administration. Among these pronouncements are those dealing with the liturgy, ecumenism, laypeople, and religious freedom. Scholar Mark S. Massa argues that Vatican II wrought a revolution in the minds of both lay and clerical Catholics, specifically with regard to their understanding of the church’s place in the modern world and in history. It allowed them to see their church as a historically contingent, human institution, open to progressive developments. This very idea of "historical consciousness," which suggested to members of the church that its doctrines were indeed subject to change, had the unintended consequence of allowing Catholics to question their loyalty to an institution that may not have been as changeless as once thought. However, it also gave rise to an openness among some Catholics to engage in different forms of worship, including Charismatic, as well as for many parishes to alter not only the type of music utilized during the Mass but even the very architecture of church buildings.

The council was not without its detractors, and the decades since its conclusion have seen a resurgence of conservative and traditionalist groups, a number of which have sought to roll back some or much of the council’s implementation. The council’s reforms also informed many Catholics’ negative reception of Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical, Humanae Vitae, which has often been cited by scholars as a key source of friction between laypeople and the church hierarchy.


  • A time of enormous change and upheaval with the Berlin Wall going up, JFK entering office and Russia winning the space race, the 1960s saw huge achievements in technology.
  • Apollo 11 was the spaceflight that landed the first two people on the Moon. Mission commander Neil Armstrong and pilot Buzz Aldrin, both American, landed the lunar module Eagle on July 20, 1969, at 20:17 UTC
  • Television was introduced into Australia in September 1956. Since then it has had a major impact on the lifestyles of all Australians. 
  • Second-wave feminism was a period of feminist activity and thought that began in the United States in the early 1960s and lasted roughly two decades. It quickly spread across the Western world, with an aim to increase equality for women by gaining more than just enfranchisement* 
  • John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, was assassinated on Friday, November 22, 1963, at 12:30 p.m. Central Standard Time in Dallas, Texas, while riding in a presidential motorcade through Dealey Plaza.
  • In 1959 Pope John XXIII, leader of the Catholic Church, announced the 21st Ecumenical Council in Rome, Italy.

Vatican II for Young Adults

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